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HAVKYST-Havet og kysten

Bowhead whales - at the edge of extinction in the Northeast Atlantic

Awarded: NOK 2.4 mill.

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Project Period:

2003 - 2006

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Bowhead whales are endemic to arctic and sub-arctic regions of the Atlantic, Bering, Beaufort, Chukchi and Okhotsk Seas. They live in close association with the sea ice edge. Since the last glaciation period the distribution of bowhead whales have fluctua ted widely in concordance with climatic fluctuations. In addition, due to exploitation over several centuries this once abundant species was exterminated over most of its former range. The commercial hunt of bowhead whales at Svalbard started in the early 1600s. Europeans hunted tens of thousands of whales in these waters. After cessation of the hunt, the Spitsbergen stock was regarded as nearly exterminated. Such large-scale fluctuations in distribution and abundance have likely influenced the stock stru cture through time and reduced the genetic diversity through bottleneck events. Recent developments within genetic techniques allow for genetic sampling of bowhead specimens over thousands of years back in time by help of DNA extracted from bones and baleens. Based on material available in Norwegian museum, we will use such analyses to explore how the Spitsbergen bowhead whale stock, as well as the other stocks of this species, have responded to climatic change and overexploitation. We will also document the present status of the Spitsbergen stock.

Funding scheme:

HAVKYST-Havet og kysten

Thematic Areas and Topics

No thematic area or topic related to the project