Bowhead Whale Research
Satellite Tracking of Western Arctic Bowhead Whales

Most Recent Map

From 10-24 October, we received locations from four tags deployed on bowhead whales. B22-02 (blue arrow) moved across the central Chukchi Sea and is currently along the Russian coast. B22-03 (red arrow) was most recently located in the central Chukchi Sea. The remaining bowheads were last located east of Barrow Canyon. Sea ice data are courtesy of the U.S. National Ice Center and dated 24 October 2022.

This year's tagging effort is a collaboration between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Arctic Marine Mammal Program (ADF&G); the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission; the Barrow Whaling Captains Association; and the North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife (NSB). The objectives of this study are to use satellite tagging to determine how bowhead whales' behavior and distribution are changing with decreasing sea ice, different wind patterns, warmer water, and increasing human activity in the Arctic. Whales were tagged with SPLASH tags manufactured by Wildlife Computers, WA. Funding for bowhead whale tagging has been provided by North Pacific Research Board (Project No. 2113). Tagging activities are conducted under NMFS permit #24334 issued to ADF&G and under an approved ADF&G Animal Care and Use Committee Protocol #0027-2022-40.

Link to Prior Maps

Animated bowhead movements between May of 2006 and July of 2010. The animation is large and may load slowly (3.3 MB).

Project Overview:

Bowhead whales are the most important subsistence species for coastal and island communities in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas. We work with subsistence whalers to attach satellite transmitters to bowheads to study their movements, habitat use, and behavior throughout their range including migration routes and timing, feeding areas, diving behavior, time spent within the spring and summer ranges. We also study how bowhead whales interact with oil and gas activities. We are investigating the use of tags that record oceanographic information to identify ocean features, such as fronts where whales prefer to feed. We are developing an acoustic tag that will record ambient sound and the vocal behavior of the whales to better understand the effects of high noise level activities such as seismic surveys and drilling activity.

This project began in 2006 and is a collaboration among the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, Whaling Captain’s Associations of Barrow, Kaktovik, Gambell, and Savoonga, the Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk Hunters and Trappers Committees, the North Slope Borough, the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. The project is funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Reports:

Publications:

  • Citta, J. J., L. F. Lowry, L. T. Quakenbush, B. P. Kelly, A. S. Fischbach, J. M. London, C. V. Jay, K. J. Frost, G. M. O'Corry-Crowe, J. A. Crawford, P. L. Boveng, M. F. Cameron, A. L. Von Duyke, M. A. Nelson, L. A. Harwood, P. R. Richard, R. S. Suydam, M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, R. C. Hobbs, D. I. Litovka, M. Marcoux, A. V. Whiting, A. S. Kennedy, J. C. George, J. R. Orr, and T. Gray. 2018. A multi-species synthesis of satellite telemetry data in the Pacific Arctic (1987-2015): Overlap of marine mammal distributions and core use areas. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 152:132-153. doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2018.02.006.
  • Druckenmiller, M. L., J. J. Citta, M. C. Ferguson, J. T. Clarke, J. C. George, and L. Quakenbush. 2018. Trends in sea-ice cover within bowhead whale habitats in the Pacific Arctic. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 152:95-107. doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2017.10.017.
  • Citta, J. J., S. R. Okkonen, L. T. Quakenbush, W. Maslowski, R. Osinski, J. C. George, R. J. Small, H. Brower, M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, and L. A. Harwood. 2018. Oceanographic characteristics associated with autumn movements of bowhead whales in the Chukchi Sea. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 152:121-131. doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2017.03.009.
  • Christman, C. L., J. J. Citta, L. T. Quakenbush, J. T. Clarke, B. K. Rone, R. A. Shea, M. C. Ferguson, and M. P. Heide-Jørgensen. 2013. Presence and behavior of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea in July 2011. Polar Biology 36:1851-1856. doi: 10.1007/s00300-013-1395-4.
  • Citta, J. J., L. T. Quakenbush, S. R. Okkonen, M. L. Druckenmiller, W. Maslowski, J. Clement-Kinney, J. C. George, H. Brower, R. J. Small, C. J. Ashjian, L. A. Harwood, and M. P. Heide-Jørgensen. 2015. Ecological characteristics of core-use areas used by Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort (BCB) bowhead whales, 2006-2012. Progress in Oceanography 136:201-222. doi: 10.1016/j.pocean.2014.08.012.
  • Citta, J. J., L. T. Quakenbush, J. C. George, R. J. Small, M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, H. Brower, B. Adams, and L. Brower. 2012. Winter movements of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in the Bering Sea. Arctic 65:13-34.
  • Heide-Jørgensen, M. P., K. L. Laidre, L. T. Quakenbush, and J. J. Citta. 2012. The Northwest Passage opens for bowhead whales. Biology Letters 8:270-273.
  • Quakenbush, L. T., J. J. Citta, J. C. George, R. J. Small, and M. P. Heide-Jørgensen. 2010. Fall and winter movements of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in the Chukchi Sea and within a potential petroleum development area. Arctic 63:289-307.

Contact Information

Lori Quakenbush
Arctic Marine Mammal Program
1300 College Road
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Ph: (907) 459-7214
Fax: (907) 452-6410
lori.quakenbush@alaska.gov