/ ©: USFSW/Brad Benter

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.

In the Arctic, WWF's work focuses on:

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Why are arctic whales threatened?

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

  • 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.

Report: whales and industry collide in the Arctic

Ice-adapted Arctic whales are already stressed by rapid climate change. Killer whales are moving into their territory and preying on them, their food sources are moving, and now, industry is on their doorstep.

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.

Key findings:
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
 / ©: WWF
Arctic whales and industry. Click for full size.
© WWF

What you can do

Sustainable whale watching

It'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

Where When 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

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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