Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni)


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Bryde’s (pronounced “broodus”) whales are members of the baleen whale family and are considered one of the “great whales” or rorquals. These rorquals can reach lengths of about 40-55 feet (13-16.5 m) and weigh up to about 90,000 pounds (40,000 kg). Males are usually slightly smaller than females.

The taxonomic status and relationships within the Bryde’s whale species is very complex and poorly understood due to several genetically distinct species/subspecies/morphologies recognized, discussed, and debated in the scientific literature. Some scientists suggest that there may be up to 3 species (Bryde’s whale Balaenoptera brydei, Bryde’s/Eden’s whale Balaenoptera edeni (Olsen, 1913), and Omura’s whale Balaenoptera omurai (Wada, Oishi, and Yamada, 2003)) based on geographic distribution, inshore/offshore forms, and a pygmy form. For at least two of the species, the scientific nameB. edeni is commonly used. The Bryde’s whale’s “pygmy form” (max. about 37.5-39 feet or 11.5-12 m in length) has only recently been described and is now known as Omura’s whale.

Bryde’s whales are large animals (considered medium-sized for balaenopterids) that have a sleek body that is dark gray in color and white underneath. They look similar in appearance to sei whales, but can be distinguished by three distinct prominent longitudinal ridges located on the animal’s rostrum in front of the blowhole. Sei whales, like other rorquals, have a single median ridge on their rostrum. The little known Omura’s whale, which is believed to occur in the western Pacific and southeast Asia, has been described as missing the characteristic rostrum ridges of typical Bryde’s whales and having asymmetrical pigmentation on the head, similar to the appearance of fin whales. The head of Bryde’s whales makes up about one quarter of the whale’s entire body. These whales have an erect, “falcate” “dorsal” fin located far down the animals back and broad flukes. On each side of Bryde’s whales mouths are 250-410 gray colored coarse baleen plates (generally less than 40 cm long). Between 40-70 ventral pleats are located on the animal’s underside. Omura’s whales’ mouths contain 180-210 baleen plates on each side of their jaw and 80-90 ventral pleats on the throat to navel area.

When at the water surface, these animals can be sighted by a columnar or bushy blow that is about 10-13 feet (3-4 m) in height. Sometimes these blows or exhales occur underwater. Bryde’s whales are often characterized by field biologists as displaying erratic and strange behavior compared to other baleen whales because they surface for irregularly spaced time intervals and can unexpectedly change directions.

These large baleen whales are usually sighted individually or in pairs, but there are reports of loose aggregations of up to twenty animals associated with feeding areas. These whales opportunistically feed on plankton (e.g., krill and copepods), and crustaceans (e.g. pelagic red crabs, shrimp) as well as schooling fish (e.g., anchovies, herring, mackerel, pilchards, and sardines). Bryde’s whales use different methods to feed, including skimming the surface, lunging, and creating bubble nets. They regularly dive for about 5-15 minutes (max of 20 min) after 4-7 blows at the surface. Bryde’s whales are capable of reaching depths up to 1,000 feet (300 m) during dives. When diving, these whales do not display their flukes. Bryde’s whales commonly swim at 1-4 mph (2-7 km/hour), but are capable of reaching speeds up to 12-15 mph (20-25 km/hour). They sometimes generate short (0.4 seconds) powerful vocalizations that have low frequencies and sound like “moans.”

Bryde’s whales become sexually mature at 8-13 years of age and may mate year round. The peak of the breeding and calving season may occur in the autumn. Females breed every second year, with a usual gestation period of 11-12 months. Females give birth to a single calf that is about 11 feet (3.4 m) in length, that is nursed for about 6-12 months.

This species is classified as DATE INCOMPLETE according to the IUCN's Red List.
This species is classified as DATE INCOMPLETE according to the IUCN’s Red List.


ESA Proposed Endangered  – Gulf of Mexico subspecies
MMPA – Bryde’s whales, like all marine mammals, are protected under the MMPA.
CITES Appendix II – throughout its range

Species Description

about 90,000 pounds (40,000 kg)
40-55 feet (13-16.5 m)
large yet sleek body that is dark gray with white, they have 3 ridges near their blow hole
unknown, but sexually mature at 8-13 years
plankton (like krill and copepods), crustaceans (like red crabs and shrimp), schooling fish (like anchovies, herring, mackerel, pilchards, and sardines)
usually sighted individually or in pairs

RELATIVE SPECIES: Most similar to Fin and Sei whales.

OTHER NAMES: Omura Whale (pygmy Bryde)

NEIGHBORING SPECIES: Sei, Fin, Blue, Sperm, Pantropical spotted Dolphin, common bottlenose dolphin.


THREATS: Entanglement in fishing equipment such as nets. This species has never been a target for commercial whaling. Occasionally they are harmed by ship strikes and vessel noise.

DIET: Small school fish, copepods and occasionally krill.

MANNER OF FEEDING: Gulp feeding. Lunging rapidly on their sides into schools of fish. Bubble netting.

BEHAVIOR: Travel alone or in small pods. Compared to other baleen whales, they show different behaviors when surfacing. They often surface at unpredictable time intervals and change direction for no apparent reason. Their blows or exhales occur underwater occasionally, unlike other baleen whales. Breaching is also a very common behavior. They will arch their backs when diving, but never raise their flukes out of the water.

REPRODUCTION: Unlike other baleen whales, they breed all year round because they live in temperate waters.They breed more often in autumn. Become sexually mature at 8-13 years. Gestation in 1 year. Females mate every other year. Calves stay with mother 6-12 months.

LIFE SPAN: Unknown.

Habitat:  Bryde’s whales prefer highly productive tropical, subtropical and warm temperate waters worldwide (61-72° F or 16-20° C). The smaller form of this species may prefer waters near the coast and continental shelf.


Bryde’s whales likely have a cosmopolitan distribution and occur in tropical and warm temperate oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific) around the world. They can be found globally in all oceans from 40° South to 40° North. Some populations of Bryde’s whales may migrate seasonally, moving towards higher latitudes during the summer and towards the equator during the winter. Other populations of Bryde’s whales are residents and do not migrate; this is unique among baleen whales. The distribution of Omura’s whales includes the nearshore and continental shelf waters of the southeast Asia, eastern Indian, and western Pacific Ocean.

Population Trends

In the U.S., recent stock assessment reports include population estimates. There are insufficient data to determine the population trends for this species.


  • ship strikes
  • underwater sounds and anthropogenic noise are an increasing concern for Bryde’s whales, and all baleen whales, which use low-frequency sounds to communicate with one another
  • whaling outside the U.S.
    • As part of their scientific research whaling program, the Japanese continue to hunt this species
    • Artisanal whalers have hunted and taken Bryde’s whales off the coasts of Indonesia and the Philippines
    • NOTE: This species was not significantly targeted during historic commercial whaling.

Conservation Efforts

This species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended.

Regulatory Overview

This species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended.



  • Jefferson, T. A, M. A. Webber, and R. L. Pitman. (2008). Marine Mammals of the World, A Comprehensive Guide to their Identification. Amsterdam, Elsevier. p.54-58.
  • Reeves, R. R., P. A. Folkens, et al. (2002). Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. p.222-225.
  • Shirihai, H. and B. Jarrett (2006). Whales, Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals of the World. Princeton, Princeton University Press. p.58-61.


  • Bryde’s whales are named for Johan Bryde, a Norwegian man who built the first whaling stations in South Africa.
  • Bryde’s whales can be easily confused with Sei whales, but they are smaller and prefer warmer waters.
  • Bryde’s whales are thought to consume an estimated 1,320-1,450 pounds (600-660 kg) of food per day, which is about 4% of their body weight.
  • Some scientist believe there are up to 3 different subspecies, categorized by size, range and depth of water they reside in.
  • Unlike most whales, they don’t migrate.
  • They make short powerful sounds that sound like moans.