A 2013 WWF report identifies and maps the areas of potential conflict and suggests how such conflicts can be reduced in a future Arctic with increasing open-water areas.
To reduce the effects of industrial development on arctic whales and the aboriginal people who depend on them for subsistence, we recommend that Arctic nations:
- carefully plan ship traffic lanes and ship speed restrictions
- close important areas - where whales calve, rear young, rest and feed - to some types of industrial activity
- strictly regulate seismic surveys and other sources of loud underwater noise
- closely monitor whale populations to track their responses to environmental disturbance
- support regulations to reduce pollution from ships
The Arctic is one of the fastest-changing parts of the planet. Global climate change is already having major impacts on Arctic ecosystems. Increasing temperatures and reductions in sea ice are particular conservation concerns for ice-associated species, including three endemic cetaceans that have evolved in or joined the Arctic sympagic community over the last 5 M years. Sea ice losses are also a major stimulant to increased industrial interest in the Arctic in previously ice-covered areas. The impacts of climate change are expected to continue and will likely intensify in coming decades. This paper summarizes information on the distribution and movement patterns of the three ice-associated cetacean species that reside year-round in the Arctic, the narwhal (Monodon monoceros), beluga (white whale, Delphinapterus leucas), and bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus). It maps their current distribution and identifies areas of seasonal aggregation, particularly focussing on high-density occurrences during the summer. Sites of oil and gas exploration and development and routes used for commercial shipping in the Arctic are compared with the distribution patterns of the whales, with the aim of highlighting areas of special concern for conservation. Measures that should be considered to mitigate the impacts of human activities on these Arctic whales and the aboriginal people who depend on them for subsistence include: careful planning of ship traffic lanes (re-routing if necessary) and ship speed restrictions; temporal or spatial closures of specified areas (e.g. where critical processes for whales such as calving, calf rearing, resting, or intense feeding take place) to specific types of industrial activity; strict regulation of seismic surveys and other sources of loud underwater noise; and close and sustained monitoring of whale populations in order to track their responses to environmental disturbance.
Why are arctic whales threatened?
- 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.
What WWF is doing for Arctic whales
- Working to reduce the major threats to whales. WWF's long term vision for whales is for all populations of whales to have recovered to viable numbers and to be thriving throughout the oceans.
- Lobbying to bring whale hunting under the strict control of the International Whaling Commission, through field research, training and capacity building, conservation education, and by securing improved national and international action and agreements.
- Investigating and monitoring the illegal trade in whale meat through support to TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring programme of WWF and IUCN (the World Conservation Organisation).
What you can do
Sustainable whale watchingIt's not just good fun; whale watching is good for conservation too.
WWF encourages carefully controlled whale watching because we believe it can promote conservation.
- In the Andenes and Tysfjord areas of northern Norway, where sperm whales and orcas are commonly seen, WWF has helped develop whale watching.
- In Iceland, WWF has provided funding for The Whale Museum, an interactive museum devoted to whales and the history of whaling in Husavik.
When and where to see whales
|Canada||June-August||Bowhead, narwhal, beluga, fin, minke, killer, gray, humpback, pilot, Dall's porpoise, Northern Right Pacific white-sided dolphin, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, white beaked dolphin, harbour porpoise. Occasionally blue|
|Greenland||July-September||Fin, killer, minke, humpback, beluga, narwhal, harbour porpoises|
|Iceland||May-September||Minke, humpback, fin, blue, orca, Atlantic white sided dolphin, Atlantic white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises Occasionally: sei, fin, sperm, pilot|
|Norway||May-January||Sperm, minke, fin, killer, pilot, occasionally humpback until Autumn. Orcas in Tysfjord in Fall and Winter.|
|Alaska (US)||June-August||Fin, humpback, killer, grey, minke|