Status and actual threats

After the end of commercial whaling in the middle of the twentieth century, only few Icewhales were left. On the IUCN Red List, the species was indicated as “very rare”. After this all time low, two out of four subpopulations luckily managed to recover quite well. The population in the seas around Alaska and Eastern Siberia (Bering Sea, Chuckchi Sea and Beaufort Sea) has increased to around 16,000 animals. The Eastern Canada / West Greenland population now includes around 4000 animals. Its growth has since stagnated, probably as a result of climate change. Due to the receding ice, orcas are moving north in larger numbers, attacking young Icewhales.

Due to the increase in the number of animals after the end of whaling, the species as a whole has now been given the IUCN status of “least concern”. However, two of the four subpopulations are still characterized as “endangered.” The number of animals in the Spitsbergen population. The size of the Okhotsk population has fallen to only around 250 individuals.

Now the Arctic ice melts by global warming, not only will the habitat of the Icewhales decrease, but there will also be also a sharp increase in shipping and exploration activities. It is suspected that especially the vocal Icewhales are highly sensitive to disturbance caused by underwater noise from ship engines and sonars. It has been demonstrated that Icewhales already react to the air explosions of air guns used in seismic surveys performed at a distance of dozens of kilometers.

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