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Meet the Blue Whale

5 min read

The blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, has the ability to navigate the ocean in a powerful way that must be seen. It remains, however, a rare site seen only by relatively few people on whale watching tours and Arctic excursions.

Blue whale - Photo Credit:  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Blue Whale. Photo Credit:  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Where to see blue whales swim

Blue whales can be spotted in many parts of the world, including the North Atlantic, North Pacific Ocean, and in the southern hemisphere including the Indian Ocean.

Though sightings are relatively rare depending on the region, Quark Expedition passengers have spotted blue whales from the South Sandwich Islands, to Husavik and Grimsey Island in Iceland, off the coast of Spitsbergen and in the Denmark Strait enroute to Iceland from Greenland.

Spend more time exploring Antarctica by Zodiac and on guided hikes as part of a small ship expedition.
Quark passengers in a zodiac in Antarctica

Blue whale watching excursions

Just this June, Quark Expeditions' Arctic expedition passengers delighted in viewing a blue whale onboard the Sea Adventurer in the Svalbard Islands, and another blue whale on the June 14th Intro to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers and Wildlife of Svalbard itinerary on the first night of the expedition!     

Blue Whale spotted in Svalbard. Photo credit: Caroline Kerrigan
Blue Whale spotted in Svalbard. Photo credit: Caroline Kerrigan

It’s important to be respectful of the blue whale, its food sources, and its environment at all times. It’s our responsibility to ensure these incredible creatures continue to roam the seas well into the future.

Let’s get to know a bit more about the blue whale, whom you just might have the opportunity to view or interact with on your polar expedition.

The rich aquatic life of a blue whale

Passengers marvel at the sheer size of these massive mammals, which can reach 32 meters (105 feet) in length and a weight of nearly 200 tons (400,000 pounds)!

Like other baleen whale species, blue whales have fringed plates on their upper jaws. That means blue whales feed by taking in a large gulp of water, typically teeming with nutritious krill, and forcing it back out through the overlapping plates.

Thousands of krill remain trapped in the giant’s mouth, making for a delicious meal.

Underwater photo of a blue whale in Antarctica
Underwater photo of a blue whale in Antarctica

In fact, we recently wrote a feature on krill, that tiny powerhouse of a food source that powers so much of Antarctica’s ecosystem. Protecting krill is integral to protecting innumerable polar species.

Blue whales live for approximately 80 to 90 years, making them among the longest-lived animals in the world—and giving them plenty of time in which to enjoy all that krill. It is believed that the oldest blue whales have lived in excess of 100 years, possibly reaching 110 years of age.

At the other end of the life cycle, infant blue whales remain in the mother’s womb for approximately one year. They’ll enter the underwater world at approximately 8 meters (725 feet) long and weighing up to three tons (6,000 pounds).

During the first year of its life, the baby gains roughly 90 kilograms (200 pounds) per day by doing nothing more than drinking its mother’s milk!

Blue whales lack natural predators aside from killer whales and sharks, which certainly helps them live those long lives. Due to their enormous size, there are not many animals willing to take them on. However, blue whales have been injured and killed in collisions with ships.

Blue whales on road to recovery from aggressive hunting

It’s a thrilling experience for polar expedition passengers to spot to blue whale. Unfortunately, this majestic mammal is currently on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List, which means blue whale sightings are rare.

It’s believed that the current blue whale population stands between 10,000 and 25,000. Hundreds of years ago, this number was much higher, but aggressive hunting during the early to mid-20th century brought the blue whale to the brink of extinction. During this period, approximately 360,000 blue whales were killed.

Despite the best efforts of the International Whaling Commission, along with other agencies, the blue whale population has not recovered to its previous level.

Spotting a Blue Whale on Your Polar Expedition

Seeing a blue whale speed through the water just below the surface, or propelling itself high into the air (breaching) is a once in a lifetime experience for many of our passengers.

The speed and grace with which this enormous creature can move defies logic and is certainly an experience that can’t be forgotten.

Blue whale spotted by passengers in Antarctica
Blue whale spotted by Quark passengers in Antarctica

Keep your weather-protected camera equipment at the ready keep these facts in mind as you peruse the ocean for a glimpse of a blue whale:

  • Blue whales hunt in the dark depths of the ocean, but move to the surface to breathe, which is your best opportunity to observe this majestic creature.
  • It’s not out of the question to spot a group of blue whales, but most travel alone or in pairs.
  • Blue whales can reach speeds as high as 30 mph, so have your camera set accordingly!
  • You won’t hear them coming… humans cannot hear the low frequency groans and pulses blue whales use to communicate with one another.

Contact an experienced polar travel advisor to learn more about which expeditions visit regions in which blue whales roam the water. It’s hard to appreciate the true beauty and uniqueness of the species until you see one in person!

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