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The tissue is histologically similar to that of the corpus cavernosum of the mammalian penis.It is hypothesized that this organ provides a mechanism of cooling for the whale (which is normally protected from the cold Arctic waters by 40 cm (16 in) or more of fat).

Whaling and climatic cooling during the Little Ice Age, from the 16th century to the 19th, is supposed to have reduced the whales’ summer habitats, which explains the loss of genetic diversity.

However, the time spent underwater in a single dive is usually limited to 9–18 minutes.

The whale has hundreds of overlapping baleen plates consisting of keratin hanging from each side of the upper jaw.

Seemingly identical to its cousins in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Southern Oceans, they were all thought to be a single species, collectively known as the "right whale", and given the binomial name Balaena mysticetus.

Today, the bowhead whale occupies a monotypic genus, separate from the right whales, as was proposed by the work of John Edward Gray in 1821.

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