The Northwest Passage opens for bowhead whales

The Greenland Institute of Natural Resources has tagged more than 130 bowhead whales since the year 2000. A major part of the practical work have been done by 4 hunters from Qeqertarsuaq in the Disco Bay Photo: MP Heide-Jørgensen
Figure 1. The Northwest Passage with tracks of four bowhead whales and extent of sea ice with greater than 50% Q3


The loss of Arctic sea ice is predicted to open up the Northwest Passage, shortening shipping routes and facilitating the exchange of marine organisms between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

The article was published in Biology Letters 21. September 2011

Here, the authors present the first observations of distribution overlap of bowhead whales from the two oceans in the Northwest Passage, demonstrating this route is already connecting whales from two populations that have been assumed to be separated by sea ice.

Previous satellite tracking has demonstrated bowhead whales from West
Greenland and Alaska enter the ice-infested channels of the Canadian High Arctic during summer. In August 2010, two bowhead whales from West Greenland and Alaska entered the Northwest Passage from opposite directions and spent approximately 10 days in the same area, documenting overlap between the two populations.


Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen 1,*, Kristin L. Laidre 2, Lori T. Quakenbush 3 and John J. Citta 3

1)Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Nuuk, Greenland
2)Polar Science Center, APL/University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
3)Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Fairbanks, AK, USA

*Author for correspondence (

Updated 06.06.2019