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

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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.

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We are particularly grateful to captain Arnold Brower, Sr. and his crew for graciously allowing us to examine the bomb lance fragment. We are also appreciative of the long-term support by the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management and the Barrow Whaling Captain’s Association for allowing our postmortem examinations of landed whales. We thank William Barr of the Arctic Institute of North America, Arthur Credland of the Hull Maritime Museum, UK and, at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Herbert Andrew, Jean Banker, Anne Brengle, Michael Dyer, Michael Lapides, and Madelyn Shaw. The New Bedford Whaling Museum kindly provided the photographs of the weapon fragment from whale 07B8. We thank Gay Sheffield for sharing her discussions about the fragment with hunters in the Bering Strait area. Bowhead whale samples were collected under the authority of permit #932-1489-03 issued to Dr. Teri Rowles of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP).

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Correspondence to John C. “Craig” George.

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“Craig” George, J.C., Bockstoce, J.R. Two historical weapon fragments as an aid to estimating the longevity and movements of bowhead whales. Polar Biol 31, 751–754 (2008).

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