First confirmed sightings of endangered whale species in the Philippines since the 19th century

A recent study has confirmed several reported sightings of a blue whale out in the Bohol Sea of the Philippines. A single pygmy blue whale nicknamed “Bughaw,” or Filipino for “Blue,” was sighted in the Bohol Sea on thirteen occasions between 2010 and 2019. 

This is the first time a blue whale has officially been seen in the Philippines since the 19th century. The study, which was published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, examines 33 reported blue whaled sightings from 2004 to 2019. There were no reported whale sightings in the Philippines from 1870 to 2004. The study’s lead author, Jo Marie Acebes, said “Although historical data suggests Blue Whales occurred in Philippine waters,  their presence was not reported” for a span of approximately two centuries.

The pygmy blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda) is a tropical subspecies of the blue whale typically found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There are four official blue whale subspecies which include B. m. brevicauda, B. m. musculus, B. m. intermedia, and B. m. indica

Researchers previously believed that Blue Whales did not travel as far as the Bohol Sea. The study emphasizes, “Although inconsistent, sightings of Blue Whales in the Bohol Sea are significant because they represent the only area in the Philippines that this Endangered species has been sighted and photo-documented.”

Despite numerous sightings of Bughaw, researchers will need to conduct more studies to determine if the Bohol Sea might be a feeding ground for the species. The research conducted by survey groups supports this idea, but the data is not sufficient, considering that the surveys were spaced out over different months and “There are still very limited sightings data to give any idea on the movements or habitat-use of this Blue Whale in the Philippines.”

“After years of wondering if that encounter in 2010 during their vessel-based survey was just a fluke (pun intended), it is good to finally confirm that the species is found in our country’s waters,” says Acebes.
Although the blue whale’s IUCN Red List of Threatened Species conservation status is endangered, the pygmy blue whale subspecies’ official status is uncertain because there is too little data to determine a threat category. Continued research is necessary to understand more about whale populations and how they are distributed throughout the Pacific.

Read the full study here:

First confirmed sightings of Blue Whales Balaenoptera musculus Linnaeus, 1758 (Mammalia:

Cetartiodactyla: Balaenopteridae) in the Philippines since the 19th century

Relevant information:

FAO Species Fact Sheet

Featured image credit: Pygmy blue whale by Paul Hilton/Greenpeace.

Suzanna DeCosta

Digital Journalist, Pacific Environment Weekly

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