Rorqual whales in Canary Islands

by | May 21, 2016

Picture. Mirna Piñero. Bryde’s whale, coast of Tenerife

        Surely the great whales are a great tourist attraction wherever they are spotted. It not is less important its interest from the point of view of conservation. Rorqual whales in Canary Islands are no exception being spotted in the islands the Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni brydei) the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and the blue whale (Balaenoptera musclus). They are baleen whales (suborder Mysticeti), with a marked dorsal fin, sickle-shaped like most dolphins.

      The most common rorqual whale species in our waters is the Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni). This species according to several authors is divided into two subspecies, Balaenoptera edeni edeni of coastal presence in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, and Balaenoptera edeni brydei (which visit our coast) that shows a much wider distribution and more oceanic habits.

Rorqual whales in canary islands

Picture. Ale Betoret.

Bryde’s whale in front of Los Gigantes, Tenerife

       They can get to measure of more than 15m. and weigh 40 tons. It is sometimes difficult to identify species level when we see a rorqual whale at sea. This Bryde’s whale is characterized by showing three longitudinal ridges on the rostrum wich is the part that goes from the front edge of the mouth up to the blow hole, the hole through which it breathes, so we depend on seeing this part when the animal emerges from the water.

       In these days of late spring they come massively in the space between the island of Tenerife and La Gomera. The reason why that is so common at this time of year is that they get entered by chasing big banks of spine trumpet fishes (Macroramphosus scolopax) to gobble up large masses of fish in every bite. It is common to see isolated individuals, duos formed by mothers and calves and large groups that come together in search of fish. Not that they are family, it is like they meet in line at the supermarket.

Rorqual whales in canary islands

Picture. Mirna Piñero. Bryde’s whale, coast of Tenerife

Rorqual whales in canary islands

Picture. Atlantic Eco.  Spine trumpet fish (Macroramphosus scolopax)

     In 2015 an interesting article about the migration of rorqual whales in the Mediterranean Sea in particular and baleen whales in general, reaching a series of well-argued conclusions was published. The authors argue that in general it is tended to simplify the migration patterns of most species. It is believed wrongly that all great whales follow similar migration patterns in winter for breeding and reproduction at lower latitudes (near the tropics and equator) and in summer for feeding at higher latitudes (proximity to the poles). These traditional ideas were based on observations of stomach contents whaling carried out by companies in the early twentieth century and observing migration patterns of the humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus). The application of new techniques for monitoring and tagging has clarified a little this simplified view.

       Although the most recent studies carried out in South Africa claim that Bryde’s whales have an almost negligible migrator character it has been found a tendency to move towards and away from equator periodically, in the Macaronesian region this character is still unknown.

Rorqual whales in canary islands

       Recently it has released a particularly acute problem in our coast. The constant presence of fishing creels along the entire coast is being charged with top notch victims. We assisted and collaborated actively in the ad hoc team created by the Center for Wildlife Recovery of Tahonilla to mobilize major rescue groups worldwide and institutions of different levels in order to disentangle a Bryde’s whale. We faild on the goal for disentangle the Bryde’s whale but we laid the groundwork to establish a protocol and form a team ready to act.


Geijer, C. K. A., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., & Panigada, S. (2016). Mysticete migration revisited: are Mediterranean fin whales an anomaly? Mammal Review, 1–13.

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