Balaenoptera musculus ssp. intermedia 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Balaenopteridae

Scientific Name: Balaenoptera musculus ssp. intermedia Burmeister, 1871
Parent Species:
Common Name(s):
English Antarctic Blue Whale
Taxonomic Notes:

The sub-specific taxonomy for Blue Whale is not yet fully elucidated in all regions, but the Antarctic Blue Whale is distinguished by its large body size and Antarctic distribution in summer. It is morphologically distinct from its neighbouring subspecies, the Pygmy Blue Whale (B. m. brevicauda (Ichihara 1966)), but only a limited number of the distinguishing characteristics are discernible at sea, making field differentiation between the two subspecies imperfect (Kato et al. 2002). The ranges of the two subspecies do not overlap in summer (Kato et al. 1995, Branch 2006) but they may overlap in winter if the Antarctic Blue Whale migrates into Pygmy Blue Whale habitat. The morphological distinction between Antarctic Blue Whales and those off western South America is not always clear (van Waerebeek et al. 1997, Palacios 1999) but the summer presence of the southeastern Pacific whales and the gap in summer sightings of Blue Whales between 44°S in Chile and the Antarctic implies that the Antarctic whales are geographically well separated from the southeastern Pacific whales. LeDuc et al. (2007) found that Antarctic blue whales were genetically distinct at the population level from Pygmy Blue Whales and southeastern Pacific whales, but no definitive, diagnostic genetic marker for the Antarctic Blue Whale has been found to date. A recent acoustic study has shown that the sounds produced by Antarctic and Pygmy Blue Whales are distinct (Ljungblad et al. 1998). The unique songs produced by both forms are also different from those produced by other blue whales world-wide (McDonald et al. 2006).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A1abd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N.
Reviewer(s): Taylor, B.L. & Notarbartolo di Sciara, G. (Cetacean Red List Authority)
The population is less than 3% of its level of three generations ago (at least a 97% decline) (1914-2007), and therefore qualifies for Critically Endangered (CR) under the reduction criterion A1 based on a combination of direct recent observations, and inferred reductions from known past catches (subcriteria a, b, d).
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Antarctic Blue Whale occurs in summer between the Antarctic Polar Front and into the pack ice zone, being most abundant near the ice edge (Branch et al. 2007). Modern sightings are aggregated close to the edge of the pack ice, while past catches extended further north. Whether this is due to retreat of the pack ice since the time of catching (de la Mare 1997), or because the distribution of the species has contracted following exploitation, is unclear. Over 40,000 blue whales were caught in the waters around South Georgia, but the species is rare there now (Moore et al. 1999).

The winter distribution is poorly known, except that Antarctic Blue Whales occur in winter around southern Africa (including South Africa, Namibia, Angola, and Congo) where they were formerly caught in large numbers (IWC 2006, Best 1998). Elsewhere there are scattered records, but the sub-specific identity is often in doubt. The assumption has been that animals migrate to lower latitudes in winter, but a portion of the population may remain in Antarctic all the year round.
Countries occurrence:
Angola; Antarctica; Argentina; Australia; Chile; Congo; Falkland Islands (Malvinas); French Southern Territories; Indonesia; Namibia; South Africa; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (South Georgia, South Sandwich Is.)
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – Antarctic; Indian Ocean – Antarctic; Pacific – Antarctic
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The Antarctic Blue Whale was extremely abundant in the past; about 341,830 blue whales were recorded caught in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic (IWC 2006) in the 20th century, of which 12,618 were identified as pygmy blue whales or are assumed to have been so from their location (Branch et al. 2004). About 40,000 of these were taken around South Georgia. In addition, the majority of the over 17,000 blue whales caught off southern Africa were probably Antarctic Blue Whales (Branch et al. 2007). Ignoring these and other catches north of 40°S, Branch et al. (2004) estimated the pre-exploitation (1905) abundance to be 239,000 (202,000-311,000). The estimated population size in 1996, based primarily on data from the International Decade of Cetacean Research (IDCR)—later Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research (SOWER) programme—whale sightings cruises, was 1,700 (860-2,900) with an estimated annual rate of increase of 7.3% (1.4-11.6%). The default value of 31 years for generation time given in Taylor et al. (2007) was considered appropriate, given an absence of any indications to the contrary from available biological information for the species. That implies that the time window for applying the A (reduction) criterion is 1914-2007. Branch et al.'s initial (1905) population estimate can be taken as a conservative (i.e., negatively biased) proxy for the 1914 population size, because few (<1,000) catches were taken during 1904-11and those authors excluded the 17,000 catches off Southern Africa. Their estimate for the ratio of the 1996 population size to the initial is 0.7% (0.3-1.3%). Even allowing for a doubling of the population size since 1996, the Antarctic Blue Whale population remains below 3% of the 1914 level.
Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Antarctic Blue Whales are the largest living animal, with lengths up to 33.6 m. They feed almost exclusively on euphausiids (krill), especially Euphausia superba (Mackintosh and Wheeler 1929). In summer they feed predominantly near the edge of the pack ice zone.

Movement patterns:Full Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The main threat in the past was direct exploitation, which only became possible (on more than an occasional basis) in the modern era using deck-mounted harpoon cannons. Whaling on Antarctic Blue Whales began in 1904 based in South Georgia. With the advent of factory-ship whaling in the 1920s, catching spread around the Antarctic, reaching a peak in 1930-31 when more than 30,000 were taken.  Southern Hemisphere Blue Whales have been protected under the International Whaling Convention since 1966. Continued illegal catches of blue whales by factory ships from the former USSR until 1972 were primarily Pygmy Blue Whales. The Antarctic Blue Whale population was reduced to a dangerously small size (low hundreds) by the end of whaling but is now increasing (Branch et al. 2004). Antarctic Blue Whales are not known to be subject to any current direct anthropogenic threats.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Blue Whales are protected worldwide, including the Antarctic, by the International Whaling Commission, and no hunting currently occurs.
The species is on Appendix I of both CITES and CMS.

Errata [top]

Errata reason: Assessment edited to correct serious formatting issues.

Classifications [top]

10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.2. Intentional use: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Very Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 

Bibliography [top]

Best, P.B. 1998. Blue whales off Namibia – a possible wintering ground for the Antarctic population. Paper SC/50/CAW14 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee, May 1998.

Branch, T. 2006. Separating pygmy and Antarctic blue whales using ovarian corpora. Paper SC/58/SH8 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee, June 2006

Branch, T.A., Matsuoka, K. and Miyashita, M. 2004. Evidence for increases in Antarctic blue whales based on Bayesian modelling. Marine Mammal Science 20(4): 726-754.

Branch, T., Stafford, K.M., Palacios, D.M., Allison, C., Bannister, J.L., Burton, C.L.K., Cabrera, E., Carlson, C.A., Galletti Vernazzani, B., Gill, P.C., Hucke-Gaete, R., Jenner, K.C.S., Jenner, M-N.M., Matsuoka, K., Mikhalev, Y.A., Miyashita, T., Morrice, M.G., Nishiwaki, S., Sturrock, V.J., Tormosov, D., Anderson, R.C., Baker, A.N., Best, P.B., Borsa, P., Brownell Jr., R.L., Childerhouse, S., Findlay, K.P., Gerrodette, T., Ilangakoon, A.D., Joergensen, M., Kahn, B.,. Ljungblad, D.K, Maughan, B., Mccauley, R.D., Mckay, S., Norris, T.F., Rankin, S., Samaran, F., Thiele, D., Van waerebeek, K. and Warneke, R.M. 2007a. Past and present distribution, densities and movements of blue whales Balaenoptera musculus in the Southern Hemisphere and northern Indian Ocean. Mammal Review 37: 117-175.

de la Mare, W.K. 1997. Abrupt mid-twentieth-century decline in Antarctic ice extent from whaling records. Nature 389: 57-60.

Ichihara, T. 1966. The pygmy blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda, a new subspecies from the Antarctic. In: K.S. Norris (ed.), Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises, pp. 79-111. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

International Whaling Commission. 2006. The IWC Summary database. (Document and files available from IWC, Cambridge, UK)

IUCN. 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2008).

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-2. Available at: (Accessed: 04 September 2016).

Kato, H., Honno, Y., Yoshida, H., Kojima, E., Nomura, A. and Okamura, H. 2002. Further developments on morphological and behavioural key for sub-species discrimination of southern blue whales.

Kato, H., Miyashita, T. and Shimada, H. 1995. Segregation of the two sub-species of the blue whale in the southern hemsiphere. Report of the International Whaling Commission 45:273-283

LeDuc, R.G., Dizon, A.E., Goto, M., Pastene, L.A., Kato, H., Nishiwaki, S., LeDuc, C.A. and Brownell Jr., R.L. 2007. Patterns of genetic variation in Southern Hemisphere blue whales and the use of assignment test to detect mixing on the feeding grounds. Journal of Cetacean Management and Research 9: 73-80.

Ljungblad, D.K., Clark, C.W., and Shimada, H. 1998. A comparison of sounds attributed to pygmy blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda) recorded south of the Madagascar Plateau and those attributed to 'true' blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) recorded off Antarctica.

Mackintosh, N.A. and Wheeler, J.F.G. 1929. Southern blue and fin whales. Discovery Report 22: 197-300.

McDonald, M.A., Mesnick, S.L. and Hildebrand, J.A. 2006. Biogeographic characterisation of blue whale song worldwide: using song to identify populations. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 8: 55-65.

Moore, M.J., Berrow, S.D., Jensen, B.A., Carr, P., Sears, R., Rowntree, V.J., Payne, R.E. and Hamilton, P.K. 1999. Relative abundance of large whales around South Georgia (1979-1998). Marine Mammal Science 15: 1287-1302.

Palacios, D.M. 1999. Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) occurrence off the Galapagos Islands 1978-95. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 1(1): 41-51.

Reeves, R.R., Smith, B.D., Crespo, E.A. and di Sciara, G.N. (compilers) 2003. Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 2002-2010 Conservation Action Plan for the World's Cetaceans. IUCN/SSC Cetacean Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Rice, D.W. 1998. Marine Mammals of the World: Systematics and Distribution. Allen Press, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Taylor, B.L., Chivers, S.J., Larese, J. and Perrin, W. 2007. Generation Length and Percent Mature Estimates for IUCN Assessments of Cetaceans. Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Administrative report LJ-07-01.

van Waerebeek, K., Pastene, L.A., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Brito, J.L., Mora-Pinto, D. 1997. The status of the blue whale Balaenoptera musculus off the west coast of South America.

Citation: Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. 2008. Balaenoptera musculus ssp. intermedia. In: (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T41713A98837960. . Downloaded on 26 September 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided