Blue Whales Are Back in the Philippines
The first confirmed sighting of blue whales in the Philippines was in 1758, and such occurrences had been scarce ever since. Blue whales were last sighted in the waters of the Philippines in the 19th century.
The blue whale is the largest creature that has ever existed. It is larger than any dinosaur that was ever discovered. Even the pygmy blue whale, a smaller species of blue whale, still eclipses all other whales in terms of size and weight.
In a study published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, researchers reported at least 33 sightings of blue whales in the Bohol Sea from 2004 to 2019. Around half of these sightings are believed to be of a pygmy blue whale that locals named Bughaw.
The Antarctic blue whale or true blue whale can grow up to 33 meters long and weigh 150,000 kilograms. The pygmy blue whale can grow up to 24 meters long and weigh up to 80,000 kilograms, or the equivalent mass of 20 African elephants.
“This individual, recognized through photo-identification, was sighted on at least 13 occasions during eight different years from 2010 to 2019,” wrote the authors.
Still Gigantic: A Pygmy Blue Whale
Bughaw belongs to one of the four blue whale subspecies called Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda. According to the study, the re-sighting of a single animal on 13 occasions across eight years suggests there could be more blue whales visiting the region. Sightings occurred between January to July.
“The geographic location and timing of the sightings suggest that blue whales in the Philippines may extend the outer range edge of the Indo-Australian population that migrates between western Australia, Indonesia, and East Timor,” the authors wrote.
“Blue whale sightings in the Bohol Sea coincide with times of high ocean productivity, although further investigation is needed to determine if they are actually feeding in this region.”
Bohol Sea a Sanctuary for Whales
In 2020, killer whales and dolphins emerged in the Bohol Sea after decades of absence. Hundreds of dolphins were reportedly seen by residents in July 2020. Earlier in June 2020, a pack of orcas or killer whales was also sighted in the waters of Bohol.
A killer whale or orca is not actually a whale. It is considered the largest dolphin in the world. In the wild, they are fearsome predators who take on sharks, other dolphins, and blue whales—the world’s largest animal—but rarely attack humans.
Next to the Sulu Sea where the Tubbataha Reefs are located, the Bohol Sea is considered one of the country’s most crucial natural treasures. It is listed as an important marine mammal area (IMMA) and is key marine biodiversity area.
Threats to Blue Whale Populations in the Philippines
According to Jo Marie Acebes, co-author of the study published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, the sighting of a pygmy blue whale in these waters highlights the need to properly manage this region, which is threatened by unsustainable fishing practices.
Opening the area to commercial fishing will significantly affect the survival of thousands of species in the area.
“Commercial fisheries is just one part of it but is a really significant one, not just for the whales but for the coastal communities who depend on marine resources.”
According to the authors, overfishing, increased shipping and seismic exploration, unregulated whale watching and dolphin watching operations, and pollutants pose a risk to the survival of of blue whales in the Philippines.