Arctic whales | WWF

Arctic whales

There are 17 different whale species (including dolphins and porpoises) in the Arctic.
Some of these live in the Arctic all year round, such as the narwhal and beluga, and some, such as the humpback whale and gray whale, migrate to the cooler Arctic waters during the northern summer to give birth.

NarwhalsBelugas, and Bowhead whales are also known as "ice whales" because they are particularly well-suited for life in the Arctic. Unlike many other whales, they lack the large dorsal (back) fin that would impede navigation in ice.


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Threats to Arctic whales

Diminished sea ice

As Arctic sea ice cover decreases, Arctic whales will need to adapt.
  • The distribution and populations of prey will change
  • Whale habitat will be increasingly open to industrial development
  • Their migratory patterns, which are influenced by the extent of sea ice, will be altered.

Industrial development

Receding ice is also allowing industrial development to extend further into the Arctic.
  • Seismic surveys used in oil and gas exploration can damage whales' hearing.
  • Hydrocarbons, including crude oil, can be released intentionally by oil tankers after offloading, or unintentionally through accidental discharges and oil spills. Fuel oil can also be released into the environment from leaking vessels and shipping accidents.

What WWF is doing for Arctic whales

WWF is working to reduce the major threats to whales by addressing climate change, shipping, and oil and gas development in the Arctic.

WWF's long term vision is for all populations of whales to have recovered to viable numbers and to be thriving throughout the oceans.

2 kinds of whales

  • Baleen whales have baleen rather than teeth. Hundreds of long, flexible plates grow down on either side from the roof of their mouths. The whale takes a mouthful of water containing its prey, closes its mouth and forces the water out between the baleen plates with its tongue. The food is trapped and swallowed.

    Arctic baleen whales include:
    • Bowhead
    • Gray
    • Minke

    Toothed whales have teeth instead of baleen, and one external blowhole.

    Arctic toothed whales include:
    • Narwhal
    • Beluga
    • Orca

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