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Bowhead Whale All stocks of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) are classified as protected by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) worldwide under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The United States has classified bowhead whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Over 10,000 bowhead whales migrate annually through the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas in a population that is growing at a rate of 3.4% per year. Scientists estimate the population number between 14,000 and 27,000 whales prior to extensive commercial whaling between 1848 and 1915. It may have dropped as low as 1,500 whales following the commercial whaling era.

In Alaska, the U.S. government and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission have jointly managed the traditional subsistence harvest of the bowhead whale under a cooperative agreement since 1981. The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission allocates the IWC quota among the ten Alaska Eskimo communities. Alaska Eskimos were alloted harpoon strikes on 75 whales in 2006, which included 15 strikes unused in 2005. Villagers consumed 31 whales for subsistence in northern Alaska in 2006.

Alaska Eskimos continue to hunt bowhead whales to eat and for baleen and bone used in handicrafts. Every whale is shared extensively within the Eskimo community. The skin and blubber of the bowhead whale, called ‘muktuk,’ is especially savored by subsistence villagers. Many artifacts are made from bowhead parts; in particular the baleen is used to make baskets, toys, fishing line, and art objects.

Eskimo whalers are prohibited from taking either bowhead calves or whales accompanied by a calf. Only licensed whaling captains or crew under the control of those captains may engage in whaling. They may not receive money for participating in the hunt.

Bowhead Whale and Calf

Publications and Citations

Bowhead Whale surfacing

Contacts and Links for Additional Information
International Whaling Commission
The Red Station House
135 Station Road
Cambridge CB4  9NP
Phone: +44 1223 232 876
Alaska Fisheries Science Center
National Marine Mammal Laboratory
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
7600 Sand Point Way N.E., Building 4
Seattle, Washington 98115
Phone: 206 526-4000
Fax: 206 526-4004

NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region

Protected Resource Division
709 West 9th Street
Juneau, Alaska   99802
Phone: 907-586-7221

Bowhead Whale Baleen

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