Increasing abundance of bowhead whales in West Greenland

Mads Peter Heide-Jorgensen, Kristin Laidre, David Borchers, Filipa Isabel Pereira Samarra, Harry Stern

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48 Citations (Scopus)


In April 2006, a dedicated survey of bowhead whales ( Balaena mysticetus) was conducted on the former whaling ground in West Greenland to determine the current wintering population abundance. This effort included a double platform aerial survey design, satellite tracking of the movements of nine whales, and estimation of high-resolution surface time from 14 whales instrumented with time - depth recorders. Bowhead whales were estimated to spend an average of 24% ( cvZ=0.03) of the time at or above 2 m depth, the maximum depth at which they can be seen on the trackline. This resulted in a fully corrected abundance estimate of 1229 ( 95% CI: 495 - 2939) bowhead whales when the availability factor was applied and sightings missed by observers were corrected. This surprisingly large population estimate is puzzling given that the change in abundance cannot be explained by a recent or rapid growth in population size. One possible explanation is that the population, which demonstrates high age and sex segregation, has recently attained a certain threshold size elsewhere, and a higher abundance of mature females appears on the winter and spring feeding ground in West Greenland. This in combination with the latest severe reduction in sea ice facilitating access to coastal areas might explain the surprising increase in bowhead whale abundance in West Greenland.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-580
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2007


  • bowhead whale
  • Balaena mysticetus
  • West Greenland
  • satellite tracking
  • aerial survey
  • sea ice


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