B. m. brevicauda (Pygmy blue whale)

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Pygmy blue whale
Skeleton at Melbourne Museum
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Family: Balaenopteridae
Genus: Balaenoptera
B. m. brevicauda
Trinomial name
Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda
Ichihara, 1966

The pygmy blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda) is a subspecies of the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) found in the Indian Ocean and the Southern Pacific Ocean.


The pygmy blue whale[2] formed from a founder group of Antarctic blue whales about 20,000 years ago, around the Last Glacial Maximum. This is likely because blue whales were driven north by expanding ice, and some have stayed there ever since. The pygmy blue whale's recent evolutionary origins cause it to have a relatively low genetic diversity.[3]

Reaching lengths of up to 24 m (79 ft), it is smaller than the other commonly recognized subspecies, B. m. musculus and B. m. intermedia, the former reaching 28 m (92 ft) and the latter 30 m (98 ft) or slightly more, hence its common name.[4]

A fourth subspecies, B. m. indica, was identified by Blyth in 1859 in the northern Indian Ocean, but difficulties in identifying distinguishing features for this subspecies lead to it being used a synonym for B. m. musculus. It is now thought to be the same subspecies as the pygmy blue whale. Records for Soviet catches seem to indicate the female adult size is closer to that of the pygmy blue than B. m. musculus, although the populations of B. m. indica and B. m. brevicauda appear to be discrete, and the breeding seasons differ by almost six months.[5]

Pygmy blue whales are believed to be more numerous than the other subspecies, possibly making up half of all blue whales alive today.[6]

Although the designation is widely accepted, because of the relatively healthy stocks of pygmy blues compared to the other subspecies, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has questioned whether the subclassification of the pygmy blue whale has been driven by the interests of the whaling industry.[7]


According to observations made since the subspecies was first described in 1966, the pygmy blue whale differs from the "true" blue whales in a number of physical characteristics. It has:

  • broader and shorter baleen plates
  • a shorter tail, and hence a proportionately longer body in front of the dorsal fin
  • a larger head relative to body size
  • a heavier body weight compared to other blue whales of the same length[8]

Pygmy blue whales reach sexual maturity at 10 years of age and a length of 19.2 m (63 ft), weighing on average 52.5 t (51.7 long tons; 57.9 short tons). As adults, males average 21.1 m (69 ft) and females 21.9 m (72 ft), with most probably between 20.7 and 22.5 m (68 and 74 ft).[9] The calculated average weight is 75.5 t (74.3 long tons; 83.2 short tons) for males and 90 t (89 long tons; 99 short tons) for females. A whale at the maximum known size of 24 m (79 ft) would weigh in the range of 129.5 t (127.5 long tons; 142.7 short tons).[10]

The shorter tail gives the pygmy blue whale more of a tadpole-like shape, and reflects in differences in diving behavior: whereas in the "true" blues, there is a delay between the submergence of the dorsal fin and the caudal peduncle; in pygmy blue whales, the dorsal and peduncle submerge simultaneously. Pygmy blue whales also tend to be darker than the other subspecies of blue whales, and the shape of their blowhole is different.[4][11]


The pygmy blue whale is the only one of the three identifiable subspecies to be found regularly in tropical waters. It occurs from the sub-Antarctic zone to the southern Indian Ocean and southwestern Pacific Ocean, breeding in the Indian and South Atlantic oceans, and travelling south to above the Antarctic to feed,[4][7] although they very rarely cross the Antarctic Convergence.[6]

Conservation status[edit]

The pygmy blue whale is covered by the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MOU).[citation needed]

A new population of pygmy blue whales was discovered in the Indian Ocean in 2017, with the aid of nuclear bomb detectors.[12] The Chagos population was determined to be undiscovered before by their unique song.



  1. ^ Cetacean Specialist Group (1996). "Balaenoptera musculus ssp. brevicauda". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 1996: e.T2479A9449204. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.1996.RLTS.T2479A9449204.en.
  2. ^ Mead, J. G.; Brownell, R. L. Jr. (2005). "Order Cetacea". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 725. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  3. ^ "Hunting not to blame for pygmy blue whale's tiny gene pool". ABC Science. 6 May 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Alex Kirby (19 June 2003). "Science seeks clues to pygmy whale". BBC News. Retrieved 15 June 2007.
  5. ^ Branch, T. A.; Stafford, K. M.; et al. (2007). "Past and present distribution, densities and movements of blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere and adjacent waters" (PDF). International Whaling Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 June 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2007.
  6. ^ a b Bortolotti, Dan (2008). Wild Blue: A Natural History of the World's Largest Animal. St. Martin's Press.
  7. ^ a b "Assessment and Update Status Report on the Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus" (PDF). Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 June 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2007.
  8. ^ Ichihara, T. (1977). The pygmy blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda, a new subspecies from the Antarctic.
  9. ^ T.A. Branch "Biological Parameters for Pygmy Blue Whales"
  10. ^ Lockyer, Christina (1976). "Body Weights of some Species of Large Whales". ICES Journal of Marine Science. 36 (3): 259–273. doi:10.1093/icesjms/36.3.259.
  11. ^ "Balaenoptera musculus — Blue Whale". Canberra: Australian Government: Department of the Environment and Water Resources. 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2007.
  12. ^ Emmanuelle C. Leroy, Jean-Yves Royer & Tracey L. Rogers (2021). "Multiple pygmy blue whale acoustic populations in the Indian Ocean: whale song identifies a possible new population". Scientific Reports. 11 (1): 8762. Bibcode:2021NatSR..11.8762L. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-88062-5. PMC 8062560. PMID 33888792. S2CID 233372631.
  13. ^ "Pygmy Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda". collections.tepapa.govt.nz. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  14. ^ Garrigue, Claire et al. “Identification of a juvenile pygmy blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda) in New Caledonia, South-West Pacific.” (2003).

External links[edit]

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