Movements and Satellite Tracking

Co-Principal Investigators Lori Quakenbush (ADFG), J. Craig George, Ph.D.
Collaborators Harry Brower, Jr., Billy Adams, and Lewis Brower (AEWC); John Citta and Robert Small (ADFG); Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen (Greenland Institute of Natural Resources); Lois Harwood (Department of Fisheries and Oceans – Canada); Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee and Tuktoyaktuk Hunters and Trappers Committee, Northwest Territories, Canada


This project began in 2005, in collaboration with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, to study movements and habitat use of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort stock of bowhead whales. The ADF&G maintains a website with current location maps of satellite-tagged bowhead whales. See reports, posters, and links below for more details.

Project Overview (taken from the ADFG website):

Bowhead whales are the most important species for subsistence communities along the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Concerns regarding bowheads include:

  1. Offshore and nearshore oil and gas activities
    • may deflect whales away from shore making hunting more difficult and dangerous
    • may displace whales from feeding areas
    • may cause oil spills that would affect migrating bowheads
  2. Stock structure
    • whales harvested at St. Lawrence Island may be a different stock then those harvested at Barrow
  3. More information is needed regarding
    • migration routes
    • migration timing
    • feeding areas
    • diving behavior
    • time spent in areas within spring and summer range

Partners in Conservation Award:

This award was presented to the NSB-DWM (with similar awards presented to all of the other collaborators) by Ken Salazar, Secretary of Interior, U.S. Department of Interior, in recognition of the Bowhead Whale Satellite Tracking Project. Collaborators in the project include those listed above. The project has proved to be very successful, mostly due to the assistance of the hunters in placement of the satellite tags on the whales. Satellite tags on this Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort stock of bowhead whales have remained attached and transmitting longer than any other tagging project in the world, allowing us to learn much more about the migration patterns of bowhead whales, their feeding areas, and interactions with industry. This project is also a model for collaborative efforts intertwining western science and the traditional knowledge of the subsistence hunters. Much thanks goes to local assistance from Billy Adams, Eugene Brower, Harry Brower, Jr., Lewis Brower, Carl Kippi, Fenton Rexford, Floyd Suvlu, George Tagarook, Herbert Adams, Johnny L. Aiken, Perry Anashugak, Ned Arey, Sr., Harry Brower, III, Roxanne Brower, Quuniq Donovan, Nelson Nungasuk, David Pikok, Joe Sage, Abel Suvlu, Jr., Shawn Tuzroyluke, Peter Williams, and others without whom the project would not have succeeded.

New Bowhead Range Map, 2011 (ADFG)


Abstract: The loss of Arctic sea ice is predicted to open up the Northwest Passage, shortening shipping routes and facilitating the exchange of marine organisms between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Here, we present the first observations of distribution overlap of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) from the two oceans in the Northwest Passage, demonstrating this route is already connecting whales from two populations that have been assumed to be separated by sea ice. Previous satellite tracking has demonstrated that bowhead whales from West Greenland and Alaska enter the ice-infested channels of the Canadian High Arctic during summer. In August 2010, two bowhead whales from West Greenland and Alaska entered the Northwest Passage from opposite directions and spent approximately 10 days in the same area, documenting overlap between the two populations.

Banner photo credit: Kate Stafford

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