Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Bowhead Whale Population Recovers Despite Arctic Warming

Bowhead Whale Population Recovers Despite Arctic Warming
Bowhead whale populations are nearing pre-commercial whaling numbers in U.S. waters. CoreyFord / Getty Images

In good news that has scientists excited, bowhead whale populations are nearing pre-commercial whaling numbers in U.S. waters.

According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report card on the species, bowhead whales are the true Arctic baleen whale species and the only one that lives in the cold waters year-round. In the 1700s, they were targeted for their oil, blubber and baleen, or whalebone. Because they're slow-moving and large, they made easy targets and were nearly hunted to extinction by the start of the 20th century.

According to NOAA, the cessation of whaling, improved management and the general inaccessibility of their habitats helped several populations rebound, including the U.S. one off the coast of Alaska.

Still, the Arctic is drastically changing due to the climate crisis, with immense loss of sea ice, soaring temperatures and raging wildfires. This grim reality has caused many to conclude that "The Arctic is Dying."

News from the Arctic has been almost uniformly bad, but the bowhead's conservation success, especially for the U.S. population off of Alaska, stands out as a beacon of hope, The Guardian reported. The NOAA report card found that the whales' recovery actually had accelerated despite Arctic warming.

"This is really one of the great conservation successes of the last century," said J Craig George, a retired biologist with the North Slope borough department of wildlife management, reported The Guardian.

George also credited the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) for their sustainable management and stewardship of the species, the Guardian said. AEWC fought against offshore oil drilling and other activities that could harm whales.

"No one has fought harder than the AEWC to protect bowhead habitat from industrial development in the U.S. Arctic," George told The Guardian.

According to the report, scientists were surprised by the whales' population expansion in recent decades. Biologists expected the cold-adapted species to suffer from melting sea ice, but instead, they observed how warmer Arctic seas are becoming more productive by bringing additional nutrients and food for the bowheads, resulting in more successful pregnancies. Now, scientists are looking to the cetaceans to provide broader insights into Arctic marine ecosystem health.

Despite the gains, the bowheads' future is still uncertain. According to NOAA, all bowhead whales remain endangered throughout their range. Oil drilling by Shell in the Beaufort Sea remains a real threat. Scientists also predict that there could be an end to Arctic sea ice by 2035. Melting ice would provide less cover against fishing gear, ship collisions and orca predators as the climate continues to change. Even the increase in food sources could attract competitor baleen whales. And of course, the climate crisis continues.

"They really are headed into an uncertain future," George told The Guardian.

Algal blooms from fertilizer pollution are among the causes behind global coastal darkening. Gooddenka / Getty Images

Coastal waters around the world are growing darker from pollution and runoff. This has the potential to create huge problems for the ocean and its marine life.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A U.S. Postal Service truck drives down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC on April 23, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP via Getty Images

The Postal Service is updating its massive fleet of mail carrying vehicles, heralding a significant step toward reducing carbon pollution from its massive fleet while also helping to protect its workforce from climate impacts.

Read More Show Less


Congresswoman Deb Haaland, seen here on December 19, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware, is poised to become the next U.S. Secretary of Interior pending Senate confirmation hearings. Alex Edelman / AFP / Getty Images

After a second day of Senate hearings, Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) is poised to become the first Native to serve as Secretary of the Interior (or any such high-ranking cabinet position.)

Read More Show Less
Yves Adams / Instagram

A rare yellow penguin has been photographed for what is believed to be the first time.

Read More Show Less
The Crystal building in London, England is the first building in the world to be awarded an outstanding BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) rating and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum rating. Alphotographic / Getty Images

By Stuart Braun

We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.

But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.

Read More Show Less