This predominantly Arctic species is associated with ice floes. Its movement patterns are therefore influenced by the melting and freezing of the ice. The bowhead has suffered from severe over-exploitation that has seen its range shrink considerably since the 17th century.
The extensive repertoire of bowhead whales
Virtually all mammals use sound to communicate, but very few produce intricate songs.Read more
- common names
Bowhead Whale, Greenland Right Whale
- scientific name
Least concern, but variation among populations (IUCN)
Threats to bowheads
As the rapidly warming Arctic sees thinner and less sea-ice, with longer open water periods in summer, a number of new threats have quickly emerged – more killer whales, and more oil and gas exploration and development, more commercial shipping plans, and more commercial fishing activity.
Arctic researchers have attached satellite radio transmitters to a sample of bowheads in order to better understand seasonal movements and habitat use of these whales.
This information can be used to help plan for human activities (like shipping) in these sensitive, quiet Arctic waters – the bowheads' home – and in all decisions regarding the future of Arctic marine systems facing rapid climate and economic change.
How we work
Whales depend on sound to survive. WWF is working to limit sound pollution in Arctic waters by making parts of the ocean important for whales off limits to particularly loud industrial activities.
WWF supported a project to collect rare drone footage of bowhead, one of Canada’s largest and longest-lived marine mammals.
Increasing demand for Greenlandic resources means ship traffic is likely to grow significantly over the next few decades. WWF advises on the risks and engages communities and governments in discussions about best practices for shipping and marine spatial planning.
WWF has mapped the enormous potential reach of an oil spill in the Barents Sea.
WWF has created maps and posters for Canadian ships in the Arctic to help mariners identify and avoid marine mammals.
WWF supports the work of the Norwegian Polar Institute, which is tracking rare bowhead whales near Svalbard.
The narwhal is famous for the long ivory tusk which spirals counter-clockwise several feet forward from its upper lip. The tusk is actually the whale's upper left canine tooth. Male narwhals commonly have a single tusk, but they sometimes have two tusks, or none at all. Around 15% of females have a tusk.
The walrus is easily recognised by its sheer size and magnificent tusks. It is a keystone species in Arctic marine ecosystems. The walrus was once threatened by commercial hunting, but today the biggest danger it faces is climate change.