National Geographic : 1995 Aug
Whales at Play Swirling and twirling, a trio of bowheads sports in the shallows of Isabella Bay. "It's sex play," says Kerry Finley. "The female lying on her side in the middle would slap her flipper and get the young males excited. Then off she'd run, and they'd follow in hot pursuit. Typical adolescent behavior." Some 60 to 70 whales gather in August off the east coast of Baffin Island. Despite constant sex play, it is not the mat ing season, which occurs earlier, during spring migration. Hunted longer and more intensively than the western bowhead population, the east ern group has in the past century shown almost no growth. Finley believes that a slow reproductive rate-a single calf every three to five years-largely accounts for the stalled recovery. Though naturally cautious, a bowhead (below) makes a bold sweep past photographer Flip Nicklin. The long curve of its head above a white eye ring explains why whalers gave Balaena mysticetus its evocative name.