Short Note

Polar Biology

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 751-754

First online:

Two historical weapon fragments as an aid to estimating the longevity and movements of bowhead whales

  • John C. “Craig” GeorgeAffiliated withDepartment of Wildlife Management Email author 
  • , John R. BockstoceAffiliated withNew Bedford Whaling Museum

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The age of bowhead whales captured by Native Alaskan hunters in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas has been estimated via chemical analyses of the eye lenses, and other techniques. The racemization-age estimates indicate that bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) have a lifespan of more than a century. Stone and ivory weapon fragments recovered from bowhead whales hunted in Wainwright and Barrow (Alaska) in 1981, 1992, 1993 and 1997, provided rough but independent assessments of the whales’ longevity; however, their date of manufacture was unknown. Adding further confirmation of these age estimates, this note describes bomb lance fragments recovered recently (2007) and about 30 years ago (1980) from bowhead whales harvested by Eskimo hunters that were “dateable” and likely manufactured between 1879 and 1885.


Bowhead whale Age estimation Whaling technology Whaling history Yankee whaling