polartours header c
Blue Whale

Blue Whale

The largest creature that has ever lived

What you need to know about the Blue Whale

Our Expert Says… "All the statistics about these wonderful creatures are incredible… Their heart is the same size as a compact car; their tail flukes are wider than a soccer goal; their mouth is large enough to hold the equivalent of almost half a million Big Macs at once, but the opening to their throat is only the size of a beach ball… The list of amazing facts can go on and on!"

The blue whale is one of the most iconic whale species. Growing to almost 30m (100ft) long and weighing up to 190 tons, blue whales are the largest creature ever to have existed on earth. And yet these gentle ocean giants feed on tiny, half-inch long crustaceans called krill.

Almost hunted to extinction by commercial whaling in the 20th century, there are now thought to be around 20,000 blue whales in the world’s oceans - 90% fewer than in 1911 at the start of large-scale whaling operations. Hunting of blue whales was banned in 1966, but recovery of the species in areas where they were hit hardest - including the Antarctic - has been slow. Some estimates of Antarctic populations show that although numbers are increasing by around 7% each year, there are still less than 1% of the number of whales in Antarctica compared to pre-whaling populations. Blue whales are officially designated as an Endangered Species.

One of the places in Antarctica with good numbers of reported sightings during the expedition season is around South Georgia Island. For arctic populations, there are regular sightings around Svalbard.

There are 4 sub-species of blue whale, and those seen in Antarctica and the southern oceans are different than those encountered in the arctic and North Atlantic, although they are almost identical in terms of size, coloring, and behaviors.

Because of their deep ocean lifestyle and relatively small numbers, there is very little known about how blue whales interact other than the very strong bond between mothers and calves until they are weaned, common to many whales. Blue whales are generally solitary creatures, although they have sometimes been observed traveling in small groups. We know very little about their mating behavior or where they breed and give birth.

Despite their enormous size, blue whales are known to be predated by orcas, particularly calves. Again, not much is known about the success rates of orcas against blue whales, but there have been several photographic studies that show evidence of scars consistent with orca teeth marks on around 5% of the blue whales that were photographed.

The main threats to blue whales are man-made. Several blue whale deaths from ship strikes are recorded every year, and there are less frequent reports of blue whales becoming entangled in fishing nets or deep-water fishing pots. There are also concerns about marine noise pollution causing behavior change in blue whales among other species.

Climate change is also thought to be a potential disaster for blue whale populations, as rising water temperatures will dramatically reduce the prevalence of the krill stocks on which they feed.

Blue Whale: Pictures & Videos

Blue Whale

Spots where the Blue Whale can be observed

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
Exploring the pack ice

The highlight of many Svalbard cruises is to explore the pack ice, and the best conditions occur when there is an obvious edge to pack ice to sail past, or calm seas where some ships go into the loose pack ice.

It is a unique and unforgettable experience to explore the pack ice ‘at the top of the World’. Seabirds feed along the edge, that can also be good for Harp Seals, and whales. The highlight is to spot a bear. Sometimes they are at a distance, sometimes a few hundred metres away, sometimes they come right up to the ship. What is crucial is to bring binoculars to enjoy and observe the Polar Bear in the heart of their realm, the pack ice, whatever the distance.

Sometimes a bear is seen quickly, sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes it takes most of the day. Other times two days can be spent exploring the pack without seeing a bear. It is important to patient, enjoy the whole experience, with a bear sighting being the icing on … the pack ice! Conditions can change quickly. Mists often come in to reduce visibility. Currents can spread out the ice into widely scattered pack, making bear sightings less likely. Strong winds and a swell can mean keeping further away from the pack ice edge.   In the early season the whole northern coast is in the grip of the pack, plus fast ice in the deeper parts of the fjords on the western side. Ships explore the ice edge to the NW of Spitsbergen at this time, with more options as the ice retreats north. As the pack ice retreats north it gradually ‘unzips’ from west to east, clearing the coast of northern Spitsbergen first, then the northern end of Hinlopenstretet, (enabling circumnavigations of Spitsbergen, exactly when varying from season to season), then the northern coast of Nordaustlandet and Sjuøyane.

Some years the ice edge can end up a long way to the north, enabling a circumnavigation of the whole archipelago, even to reach remote Kvitøya. Other years, pack ice remains along the northern coast of Nordaustlandet, caught up among the offshore islands. This prevents a circumnavigation of the archipelago, but the areas of drifting pack ice around and places like Lagøya and Sjuøyane can be superb for ship cruising and even Zodiac cruise amongst the pack.

Our trips to spot the Blue Whale

2024 Polartours, a Ventura TRAVEL GmbH brand

All rights reserved

Polar Specialist

Your contact


Book a video consultation

15min face to face consultation

Polar Specialist