WILD LIFE | 03.21.17
Their record-setting heft doesn't stop blue whales from being surprisingly sinuous swimmers.
Stretching to lengths of 30 meters (98 feet) or more, and weighing some 190 metric tons (420,000 pounds), blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus
) are the largest animals on the planet. In fact, they’re thought to be the largest animals ever to have lived on Earth.
Despite their massive size, blue whales are rarely seen. Though still widely distributed throughout all of the world’s major oceans (except the Arctic), their numbers are a small fraction of what they used to be. Estimated at 10,000 to 25,000 individuals, the current global population of blue whales is thought to be just 3–11 percent of what it was in 1911, when modern commercial whaling operations were first beginning to ramp up.
Fortunately, whaling was largely eliminated as a threat to the species when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) granted the blue whale protection in 1966, and then set catch limits at zero in 1986. Since those protections were put in place, blue whale populations have begun to rebound, but slowly—largely due to the fact that the species' average generation time is 31 years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists the species as Endangered.
The rarity of blue whales is not the only reason these animals are a challenge to find—and photograph. Few photographers know these challenges better than Tony Wu, who has devoted much of his career to photographing whales in some of the world’s remotest stretches of ocean. “It’s difficult to approach blue whales,” Wu says. “They’re large and usually move quite quickly.” This particular whale, however, seemed to be curious about the photographer as he entered the water from his small boat, approaching closely and swimming slowly enough that Wu could keep up with it as it caught its breath at the surface. Unlike many of the whales Wu encounters, this individual revisited him several times following its deep dives. In all, the whale visited Wu seven times that day, giving the photographer the rare opportunity to capture not only the creature’s massive size, but also its grace.
ABOUT THE Photographer
Tony Wu combines his love of visual art with his interest in the marine world through underwater photography. Since 1995, Wu has used his photographs and writing to encourage others to appreciate and protect the beauty of the oceans. Most recently, he’s devoted his attention to photographing whales and other cetaceans, as well as mass spawning aggregations of fish. His images have received international awards in Japan, Europe and the US, including Grand Prize in Japan’s largest marine photo contest and first place in the underwater category of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
A photographer slips into the ocean to swim among hundreds of sperm whales, and witnesses a rarely seen social spectacle.
photo essay | 07.12.16
A Gathering of Giants
To woo a potential mate, a male humpback whale pulls out some surprisingly smooth—and tender—moves.
spotlight | 02.13.18
Head over Heels
Argentina’s vast Iberá wetlands lost many of their largest species decades ago. Can an audacious rewilding plan rebuild a bygone world?
article | 03.14.17
is powered by the California Academy of Sciences, a renowned scientific and educational institution dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on Earth.
Don't miss a thing.
Sign up to receive the latest updates and new stories frombioGraphic