Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) sighting in the Franz Josef Land area.

Keywords & Taxonomy

General keywords: 
Habitat use
Baleen whales
Bowhead whales

Abstract body

Prior to human predation there were five geographically distinct, permanent, and robust Bowhead stocks: the Sea of Okhotsk stock, the Bering Sea stock, the Hudsons Bay stock, the Davis Strait stock and the Greenland–Spitzbergen stock. Over the entire 1611-1911 period of human predation there were 120507 Bowhead whales taken from the Greenland–Spitzbergen stock, though the initial estimated population number was approximately 52500 adult Bowhead whales. In 1911 the British whaling vessel spent an entire season off the east coast of Greenland and did not sight, much less land, a single Bowhead whale, as the date of virtual extinction for this stock.  Today, the Spitsbergen stock of Bowhead whales is believed to number in the tens and is considered critically endangered by the IUCN. During the monitoring on the way to the Franz Josef Land, on August 31 2013, two Bowhead whales were sighted not far from the Guker Island (latitude 79,795, longitude 51,588). On July 22 and 23 2013, from an observation station on the Graham Bell Island two Bowhead whales were observed at coordinates: latitude 63,982, longitude 81,092; latitude 63,989, longitude 81,091. The whales slowly moved to the north, since the animals were observed approximately at the same location and on different dates, it might be the same individual. The V-shaped blow and the head shape allowed the Bowhead whales to be distinguished with no doubts. Belikov et al. (1989) reported several observations of possible bowhead whales in the area of Franz Josef Land in the period 1971 to 1985. A total of 34 whales were observed from airplanes during ice reconnaissance flights. Therefore according to the current information the status of this stock seems to be better than earlier believed.

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