Full mitochondrial genomes were assembled for 12 recently sampled animals from the Svalbard bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) stock via high-throughput sequencing data, facilitating analysis of the demographic history of the population for the first time. The Svalbard population has retained noticeable amounts of mitochondrial genome diversity despite extreme historical harvest levels. Haplotype and nucleotide diversities were similar to those estimated earlier for other bowhead whale populations. The reconstructed demographic history was in accordance with a boom-bust scenario, combining a slight Pleistocene population growth 25 000-35 000 years ago and a Holocene decline. Employing a mutation rate of 3.418 x 10(-8) substitutions per site per year, the time to the most recent common ancestor for the mitochondrial genomes of the contemporary Svalbard bowhead whales was estimated to be 68 782 (54 353-83 216) years before the present. Based on 370 bp fragments of the D-loop region, significant genetic differentiation was detected between all extant bowhead whale populations across the circumpolar Arctic. Thus, the Svalbard bowhead whales can be regarded as a population with its own genetic legacy.