Bowhead | WWF
	© USFSW/Brad Benter

Bowhead whale

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.

In this section:
  1. Bowhead tracker - follow bowheads on an interactive map
  2. Threats to bowheads
  3. What WWF is doing

Bowhead tracker

The Canadian and Alaskan governments have attached satellite radio transmitters to a sample of bowhead whales, 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.

Thank you!

We are grateful for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO) for updating us on the bowheads' locations.

See more trackers

  • common names

    Bowhead Whale, Bowhead, Greenland Right Whale

  • scientific name

    Balaena mysticetus

  • status

    Status varies by subpopulation.
    Svalbard-Barents Sea: critically endangered
    Okhotsk Sea: endangered
    Other populations: least concern


	© WWF
Bowhead range map

What are the theats to bowheads?

Industrial development

Bowheads are well known to be very sensitive to acoustic disturbance in the silent depths of the arctic ocean in which they have evolved. Increased commercial shipping, military activities, and hydrocarbon exploration and development (including seismic projects offshore) present a cocktail of threats.

Climate change

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.

Past overhunting

Hunted by commercial whalers until the last century for oil, meat, and baleen, bowhead whales are today listed as endangered species in many countries. Some populations are faring better as a result. Native Alaskans and Canadian Inuit are allowed a limited subsistence hunt for bowhead whales from stable populations. 
	© Wikipedia
Eighteenth century engraving showing Dutch whalers hunting bowhead whales in the Arctic.
© Wikipedia

What WWF is doing for bowheads

WWF worked with the community of Clyde River (Kangiqtugaapik in Inuktitut) in Canada to help document and protect a critical feeding area for bowhead whales. In 2009, a bowhead whale sanctuary was created in Ninginganiq (Isabella Bay).


Stay informed with WWF's monthly Arctic newsletter.


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  • 20

    Bowheads don’t breed until they are at least 20 years old


    Some bowheads live for 200 or more years – the world’s longest-lived wild mammal species.

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