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Endangered Species Research

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ESR - Vol. 18, No. 2 - Feature article
Bowhead whale at the ice edge in the Fram Strait, April 2010.  Photo: Øystein Wiig

Stafford KM, Moore SE, Berchok CL, Wiig Ø, Lydersen C, Hansen E, Kalmbach D, Kovacs KM


Spitsbergen’s endangered bowhead whales sing through the polar night


Historical whaling that took place from the 1600s through the 1800s reduced the Spitsbergen bowhead whale stock to the point of commercial extinction. However, recent bowhead whale sightings west of Svalbard precipitated an effort to listen for their vocalizations in Fram Strait. Year-round acoustic records from 2 sites were examined for the occurrence of bowhead sounds. Remarkably, bowhead vocalizations were detected nearly every hour from early November 2008 through late April 2009 at the westernmost listening station, and more than 60 unique songs were recorded. Peak levels of song production coincided with the period of coldest water temperature, densest ice-concentration and almost complete darkness, suggesting that this wintering ground might be a mating area for this Critically Endangered bowhead population.


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