Blue Whale (Atlantic population)

Balaenoptera musculus

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

The blue whale is a rorqual whale—one of a group that has expanding grooves in the skin of the neck; these allow it to engulf huge volumes of water while feeding on krill. Despite its name, the blue whale is actually coloured dark and light grey; every whale has a unique pattern of markings on their skin, called mottling.

With a potential life span between 70 and 80 years, blue whales reach sexual maturity between 6 and 10 years of age and reproduce every two or three years. Calves at birth can weigh up to two tonnes. The total number of blue whales in the Northwest Atlantic population is unknown, but it is estimated that it does not exceed 250 adults.

Habitat

Northwest Atlantic blue whales are generally found in waters off eastern Canada: in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and in the Davis Strait. They also occur between Baffin Island and Greenland. They usually migrate south for the winter, but some whales may remain at our latitudes all year long.

Blue whales’ diet consists primarily of krill, a small shrimp-like crustacean. A single whale can consume as much as four tonnes in a day. Blue whales are therefore regularly observed in areas where krill is concentrated.

Threats

Commercial whaling historically carried out in the Atlantic reduced the population by about 70%. At least 1,500 blue whales were killed before the 1960s in the waters of eastern Canada.

Since the end of commercial whaling, blue whales remain threatened by human activity. Here are some of the threats that have the potential to harm these giant creatures:

  • Noise pollution;
  • Reduction of food availability;
  • Persistent marine contaminants;
  • Collisions with ships;
  • Disturbance caused by whale-watching activities.
Blue whales

Photo: Jean-François Gosselin, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Blue whale - Kelly Houle, NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Kelly Houle, NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Blue whale - Jean-François Gosselin

Jean-François Gosselin

Further Information

Conservation

The Northwest Atlantic blue whale is listed as endangered and protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). A recovery strategy has been developed for this species with the long term goal of reaching a population of at least 1,000 mature blue whales. Furthermore, a moratorium on harvesting forage species, such as krill, has been put in place by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, to protect food supplies of species at risk such as the blue whale. Internationally, blue whales are protected by the International Whaling Commission; the blue whale is also listed by both the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Research

Blue whales in the Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence and their habitat are the subject of research carried out by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in collaboration with the Mingan Island Cetacean Study and the Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins (GREMM). This research is focused mainly on understanding diet, foraging behaviour and habitat use of blue whales. It also aims at locating and mapping krill concentration areas which are important feeding grounds for blue whales. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Fisheries and Oceans Canada researchers are using autonomous acoustic recorders to monitor the presence of blue whales throughout the year in locations where they have been sighted most frequently. These acoustic and sightings data will be used to model blue whale critical habitat in this region.

Stewardship

Stewardship initiatives are ongoing through partner organizations with the support of the Species at Risk Habitat Stewardship Program. In Quebec, GREMM and the Réseau d’observation des mammifères marins have been conducting outreach for several years to promote best practices for whale watching. This campaign is targeted at marine wildlife observation tour operators. Additionally, GREMM coordinates the actions of the Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network to implement measures to save animals in trouble in the waters of the St. Lawrence bordering the province of Quebec. You are invited to call 1-877-722-5346 toll free to alert the Network when a marine mammal is in trouble.

Whale Release and Strandings encourages fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador to report blue whale sightings, and educates school children and the general public about blue whales through school presentations and a variety of community events. The Quebec-Labrador Foundation has a marine species at risk observer program where fish harvesters report blue whale sightings. They have also produced educational materials for public outreach and education on blue whales and other marine mammals.

For more information, visit the Species at Risk (SARA) Public Registry Profile.

Blue Whale (Atlantic population)

Blue Whale (Atlantic population)

Photo credit: Gary Taylor Source: DFO, Newfoundland and Labrador Region.

Photo credit: Gary Taylor
Source: DFO, Newfoundland and Labrador Region.

Blue Whale (Atlantic population)

Blue Whale. Copyright Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

Scientific name: Balaenoptera musculus
SARA Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
Region: Atlantic

Transcript

Narrator: "Fisheries and Oceans Canada presents: Identifying and Reporting Blue Whales. DFO Research Scientist, Dr. Hilary Moors-Murphy, studies and monitors whales in Eastern Canada. She will help you identify these incredibly large whales. And maybe one day you’ll let her know when you see a Blue Whale too."

Dr. Hilary Moors-Murphy: "Blue Whales are an endangered species. Blue Whales occur throughout the North Atlantic Ocean and are most often seen in eastern Canada in spring, summer and fall. These whales have a huge blowhole and can often be spotted from a distance by their tall, straight blow. When Blue Whales come to the surface, we see their blow first, then their back, and then their small dorsal fin. Blue Whales can be easily distinguished from other large whales by their mottled blue-grey colour. This lighter colour can appear light blue underwater. These whales also have a small dorsal fin located far down their back. Growing up to 30 meters in length, Blue Whales are the largest creatures to ever live on Earth.

"Please help DFO monitor Blue Whales and report all sightings. Remember to provide important details about your sighting, including the number and type of whales seen, the date and time, and the location, such as your latitude and longitude. When possible, please share your photos and video as well. To report Blue Whale sightings, please call 1-844-800-8568 or email XMARWhaleSightings@dfo-mpo.gc.ca. If you see entangled, injured or dead whales, please contact the Marine Animal Response Society as soon as possible at 1-866-567-6277 or VHF Channel 16 or email marineanimalresponse@gmail.com."

Northwest Atlantic Blue Whale distribution as described in the following paragraphs

Credit: Adapted from Sears, R. and J. Calambokidis. 2002. Status of the blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus, in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) . Committee on the status of endangered species in Canada. Ottawa. 38 p.

Did You Know?

The blue whale is the largest animal on Earth today—and the largest known to have ever existed. The largest adult on record measured 29.5 metres. Lengthwise, the blue whale is equivalent to two city buses. It can weigh up to 200 tons, which is comparable to 8 airplanes or 15 school buses.

Blue whale. Photo: Véronique Lesage, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Blue whale. Photo: Véronique Lesage, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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