Today will be dedicated to the largest Arctic resident, the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus). When initially described by Linneaus in 1758, the bowhead whale was classified as the same species as other right whales (Eubalaena spp.). After decades of morphological and molecular studies, the bowhead was assigned to a separate genus within the shared family, Balaenidae. The bowhead whale is the only baleen whale to live exclusively in the Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. This species is the largest within the ‘right whale’ family. Most mature adults range from 14-18 meters and weigh 60-90 metric tons, with females being the slightly larger sex. Most experts suggest that the largest individuals historically approached or surpassed 20 meters and oil yield records substantiate the existence of bowheads well in excess of 100 metric tons. One whale that yielded 375 barrels of oil was calculated to have weighed 164 metric tons. Even when restricting to the more conservative estimates that validate individuals of up to 120 metric tons from 275-barrel yields, the bowhead whale would still be the most massive animal in Earth’s history after the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), surpassing the weight of the more verified estimates from dinosaurs. Molecular studies have calculated that the bowhead could potentially live up to over 2 centuries. Bowhead whales are currently listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN, with a current population surpassing 20,000, making a huge comeback from being on the brink of extinction. Small-scale subsistence hunts still continue for bowhead whales and the populations are still threatened by climate change, entanglement, and vessel strikes. Bowheads feed mainly on copepods, krill, mysids, and a whole greater range of small crustaceans. Their sole natural predator is the killer whale (Orcinus orca).
Typically, I praise CollectA when it comes to western manufacturers expanding outside the typical cetacean species. However, Safari Ltd also deserves some recognition as they’ve been engaging in similar behavior as well. In fact, both companies ended up releasing their own bowhead whales in 2014. Last year, the blog reviewed the CollectA figure, and now it’s time to see which company released the better bowhead.
When measured along the bottom of the figure, the Safari bowhead whale is about 21 cm long from the rostrum to the notch between the flukes. This would place the whale in the 1:67-1:86 scale range for most individuals. It’s very close in size to the CollectA bowhead and would scale well with the sei whale, right whale, and updated sperm whale of the same line.
I am very much like the sculpt. The figure is posed with the back arched and the mouth partially open as if the whale is skim-feeding. The skin is appropriately smooth and the body is quite rotund. A neat bonus is a genital slit, which indicates that this figure represents a male.
The detail that I really appreciate about the Safari Ltd. bowhead is the indentation posterior to the blowhole that’s not as pronounced in the CollectA figure. The Safari bowhead is noticeably more species-accurate, while the CollectA bowhead’s face appears to be more similar to the skull shape of right whales. I personally think it’s important that this feature was sculpted correctly on the Safari version as I believe it plays a key role in characterizing the silhouette of the bowhead.
Now the paintjob is where we hit a few snags, well 2 at least. The biggest issue should be obvious, the eyes are surrounded by these white rings. These features are present on actual bowhead whales but are normally more subtle. This feature is marred more by the orange rings that appear to be either the sclera or iris of the eyes. I think Safari really jeopardized the overall realism of this figure by trying to bite off more than they could with the eyes. Another, less obvious issue is that the baleen is a light gray when it’s actually much darker on real bowheads. These are two problems that are rectified on the CollectA figure. Otherwise, I have no other issues. Everything else is pretty accurate.
So which company produced the better bowhead? Well, that depends on the type of collector you are. On one hand, the inaccurate skull shape on the CollectA figure is less distracting than the Safari figure’s eyes. So collectors who prioritize how a figure looks right of the box should look towards CollectA. On the other hand, the Safari bowhead’s eyes are an easier problem to correct. So that should be the product for collectors who dabble in customizing and always have some acrylic paint and brushes on hand. I can personally attest that once I covered the rings around the Safari figure’s eyes to match the color of the skin, it looked ultimately superior to the CollectA bowhead.
For those who desire the Safari figure are in luck as it is still in production. Unfortunately, the CollectA Bowhead appears to be discontinued in the U.S. for some reason. The CollectA figure is not rare, but the first couple of listings I’ve found all seem to require importing for those who are in the U.S.
(Update: It appears that the CollectA bowhead whale is still being sold in the U.K. and Australia, but not in the U.S. for some reason).