About the Species
Bryde's (pronounced "broodus") whales are members of the baleen whale family. They are considered one of the "great whales," or rorquals, a group that also includes blue whales and humpback whales. Bryde’s whales are named for Johan Bryde, a Norwegian who built the first whaling stations in South Africa in the early 20th century.
Bryde’s whales are found in warm, temperate oceans including the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific. Some populations of Bryde's whales migrate with the seasons, while others do not migrate, making them unique among other migrating baleen whales.
Bryde’s whales are vulnerable to many stressors and threats, including vessel strikes, ocean noise, and whaling outside the United States. The Gulf of Mexico subspecies is also threatened by oil and gas activities, as well as oil spills and cleanup. Scientists believe that there are fewer than 100 Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales.
NOAA Fisheries estimates population size and trends in our stock assessment reports. At this time, there is not enough information to estimate population trends for the Bryde’s whale species as a whole.
Bryde’s whales were once considered monotypic (belonging to one species). Currently, there are two subspecies of Bryde’s. Bryde’s/Eden’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni edeni) is a smaller form found in the Indian and western Pacific oceans, primarily in coastal waters. The Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni brydei) is a larger form, found primarily in pelagic waters. The Bryde's whale's "pygmy form" has only recently been described and is now known as Omura's whale (Balaenoptera omurai).
Each taxonomy subspecies has a different geographic distribution, genetic makeup, habitat, and physical appearance. Researchers are discussing whether the science supports recognizing the two subspecies as full species or whether additional data are needed to make that determination.
- Gulf of Mexico subspecies
CITES Appendix II
- Throughout Its Range
- Throughout Its Range
Bryde’s whales look similar to sei whales, but are smaller and prefer warmer waters. Unlike other rorquals, which have a single ridge on their rostrum, Bryde’s whales have three prominent ridges in front of their blowhole. Their bodies are sleek and their flippers are slender and pointed.
The head of a Bryde's whale makes up about one quarter of its entire body length. The whales have a broad fluke, or tail, and a pointed and strongly hooked dorsal fin located about two-thirds back on the body. Bryde’s whales have 40 to 70 throat grooves on their underside that expand while feeding, and 250 to 410 gray, coarse baleen plates on each side of their mouths that act as strainers while they feed. Male Bryde’s whales are usually slightly smaller than females.
Behavior and Diet
Bryde’s whales are usually seen alone or in pairs. Nonetheless, there have been reports of up to 20 whales loosely grouped together in feeding areas.
Research suggests that Bryde’s whales spend most of the day within 50 feet of the water’s surface. They commonly swim at one to four miles per hour, but can reach speeds of 12 to 15 miles per hour. They dive for about 5 to 15 minutes, with a maximum dive duration of 20 minutes, and can reach depths up to 1,000 feet. They do not display their flukes when diving.
Bryde’s whales eat an estimated 1,320 to 1,450 pounds of food per day. Their diet consists of krill, copepods, red crabs, shrimp, as well as a variety of schooling fishes, such as herring, mackerel, pilchards, and sardines. Bryde's whales use different methods to feed in the water column, including skimming the surface, lunging, and creating bubble nets.
Bryde’s whales can blow water 10 to 13 feet into the air when at the water’s surface. They sometimes exhale while underwater as well. Additionally, Bryde’s whales can change directions unexpectedly when swimming. They sometimes generate short, powerful sounds that have low frequencies and sound like "moans."
Where They Live
Bryde's whales have a wide distribution and occur in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters (61° to 72°F) around the world. They live in all oceans from 40° south to 40° north. Some populations of Bryde's whales migrate with the seasons, moving away from the equator during the summer and towards the equator during the winter. Other populations of Bryde's whales are residents, meaning that they do not migrate.
Lifespan & Reproduction
Bryde's whales become sexually mature at around nine years of age and can mate year-round. The peak of the breeding and calving season occurs in autumn, and females give birth to a single calf every two to three years. Pregnancy lasts 10 to 12 months, and calves nurse for about 12 months.
Bryde’s whale populations are exposed to a variety of stressors and threats, including vessel strikes, ocean noise, and whaling outside the United States.
Accidental vessel strikes can injure or kill Bryde’s whales. They vulnerable to vessel strikes throughout their range, but the risk is much higher in coastal areas with heavy vessel traffic. Bryde's whales are the third most commonly reported species struck by vessels in the southern hemisphere.
Low-frequency underwater noise pollution can interrupt Bryde’s whales’ normal behavior by hindering their ability to use sound. That disrupts their ability to communicate, choose mates, find food, avoid predators, and navigate.
Whaling (Outside the United States)
Historically, Bryde’s whales were not major targets for commercial whaling. However, whalers have recently hunted Bryde’s whales off the coasts of Indonesia and the Philippines. Additionally, some hunters in Japanese continue to take Bryde’s whales as part of their scientific research whaling program.
All Bryde’s whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, in order to further protect the Gulf of Mexico subspecies and aid in its recovery, NOAA Fisheries listed the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Reducing Vessel Strikes
Collisions between whales and large vessels can injure or kill the whales and damage the vessels, but they often go unnoticed and unreported. The most effective way to reduce collision risk is to keep whales and vessels apart.
Addressing Ocean Noise
Low-frequency underwater noise may threaten Bryde’s whales by interrupting their normal behavior and driving them away from areas important to their survival, such as feeding waters. Mounting evidence suggests that exposure to intense underwater sound in some settings may cause some whales to strand and ultimately die. NOAA Fisheries is investigating all aspects of acoustic communication and hearing in marine animals, as well as the effects of sound on whale behavior and hearing. In 2016, we issued technical guidance for assessing the effects of anthropogenic (human-caused) sound on marine mammal hearing.
Overseeing Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response
We work with volunteer networks in all coastal states to respond to marine mammal strandings including large whales. When stranded animals are found alive, NOAA Fisheries and our partners assess the animal’s health. When stranded animals are found dead, our scientists work to understand and investigate the cause of death. Although the cause often remains unknown, scientists can sometimes identify strandings due to disease, harmful algal blooms, vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglements, pollution exposure, and underwater noise. Some strandings can serve as indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues that may also have implications for human health and welfare.
Educating the Public
NOAA Fisheries aims to increase public awareness and support for Bryde’s whale conservation through education, outreach, and public participation. We share information with the public about the status of Bryde’s whales, as well as our research and efforts to promote their recovery.
All marine mammals, including Bryde’s whales, are protected in the United States under the MMPA. The Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s subspecies is listed as endangered under the ESA.
Regulatory Actions & Documents
- Final Rule (84 FR 15446, April 15, 2019)
- Notice Reopening Public Comment (82 FR 9707)
- Proposed Rule (81 FR 88639, December 8, 2016)
- 90-day Finding (80 FR 18343, April 6, 2015)
NOAA Fisheries conducts research activities on the biology, behavior, and ecology of the Bryde’s whale. The results are used to inform management decisions for this species.
Determining the size of Bryde’s whale populations helps resource managers determine the success of conservation measures. Our scientists collect population information and present the data in annual stock assessment reports.
Acoustics is the science of how sound is transmitted. NOAA researchers measure the acoustic environment of cetaceans to increase our understanding of the basic acoustic behavior of whales, dolphins, and fish; mapping the acoustic environment; and developing better methods to locate cetaceans using autonomous gliders and passive acoustic arrays.