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Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus)

Western Arctic bowhead whales are distributed in ice-covered waters of the Arctic and near-Arctic, generally north of 60*N and south of 75*N in the western Arctic Basin. The largest population is in the Bering Sea. The majority of the Bering Sea bowheads migrate from wintering areas in the northern Bering Sea (November to March), through the Chukchi Sea in the spring (March through June), to the Beaufort Sea where they spend much of the summer (mid-May through September) before returning to the Bering Sea in the fall (September through November) to overwinter. Most of the year, bowhead whales are closely associated with sea ice. The bowhead spring migration follows fractures in the sea ice around the coast of Alaska, generally in the shear zone between the shorefast ice and the mobile pack ice. However, during the summer, most of the population is in relatively ice-free waters in the southern Beaufort Sea. All bowheads were commercially exploited for oil and baleen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reducing the population significantly. Today, only subsistence hunting by a few Alaska natives occurs. Bowhead whales can reach lengths of 19.8 m and weigh up to 100 metric tons.

MML Research Recent MML Bowhead Whale Publications
  • ELLISON, W. T., R. RACCA, C. W. CLARK, B. STREEVER, A. S. FRANKEL, E. FLEISHMAN, R. ANGLISS, J. BERGER, D. KETTEN, M. GUERRA, M. LEU, M. MCKENNA, T. SFORMO, B. SOUTHALL, R. SUYDAM, and L. THOMAS. 2016. Modeling the aggregated exposure and responses of bowhead whales Balaena mysticetus to multiple sources of anthropogenic underwater sound. Endang. Spec. Res. 30:95-108:  Online.
  • CLARK, C. W., C. L. BERCHOK, S. B. BLACKWELL, D. E. HANNAY, J. JONES, D. PONIRAKIS, and K. M. STAFFORD. 2015. A year in the acoustic world of bowhead whales in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Prog. Oceanogr. 136:223-240. 
  • CHRISTMAN, C. L., J. J. CITTA, L. T. QUAKENBUSH, J. T. CLARKE, B. K. RONE, R. A. SHEA, M. C. FERGUSON, and M. P. HEIDE-JØRGENSEN. 2013. Presence and behavior of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in July 2011. Polar Biol. 36:1851–1856. 
  • FERGUSON, M. C., and J. T. CLARKE. 2013. Estimates of detection probability for BWASP bowhead whale, gray whale, and beluga sightings collected from Twin Otter and Aero Commander aircraft,1989 to 2007 and 2008 to 2011. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-AFSC-261, 52 p. (.pdf, 906 KB).  Online.
  • Search the AFSC database for additional Bowhead Whale publications
Recent MML Bowhead Whale Posters
Bowhead Whale Stock Assessment Reports
MML Education Web (these pages are targeted toward students!) Management Bowhead Whale Images Other links

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