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The blue whale is not only the largest of all the whales, but also the largest animal on the planet!

B285 was perhaps not THE biggest, but at 22 m long, it was nevertheless the equivalent of nearly 2 bus lengths!

B285 was first photographed in August 1994 by the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS). She was already adult in size, which meant she must have been between 5 and 15 years old, or perhaps even older.

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Blue whale showing its back, dorsal fin and left flank

On November 22, 2004, a blue whale carcass washes ashore at the mouth of the Moisie River near Sept-Îles. The pattern of spots on its back reveals that it is B285. On the other hand, there were no obvious marks, scars or signs of illness, so it could not be determined how she died.

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A blue whale carcass lies stranded on the beach. A man walks alongside it; he looks very small next to the animal.

B285’s baleen has also been preserved. Analyzing them might provide clues to this individual’s life history in the ocean. Indeed, the atomic composition of baleen is influenced by the environmental conditions in which the whale lived: water temperature, salinity, etc.

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Distribution map of the blue whale in the North Atlantic. The distribution covers the entire North Atlantic, extending northward to the edge of the Arctic Ocean.

B285 has never been observed with a calf. Is it because she never experienced motherhood or because she was always somewhere else whenever she had a newborn in tow? In the past few decades, very few calves of this endangered species have been seen in the St. Lawrence.

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The backs of two blue whales can be seen on the water surface: a larger one on the left and a smaller one on the right.

Despite their gigantic size, blue whales like B285 feed exclusively on tiny prey. More precisely, these whales specialize in krill, a small, shrimp-like crustacean.

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Video Transcript

When you feed on such tiny prey, there’s no point catching them one at a time!

But how do you get a decent-sized bite without having to take a huge swill of water? That’s what baleen is for!

Unlike most whales, which have teeth, some have what is called baleen. Each baleen is a horny plate with a hairy edge. They hang by the hundreds from the animal’s palate, each one fitting snugly against the next one, hairs facing inward.

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A humpback whale lunges across the water surface with its mouth agape. Its palate appears hairy with the exception of a strip of pink skin running down the middle.

How does a whale use its baleen?

Whales like B285 and other rorquals use an engulfing technique when they feed. When they open their mouths, the skin under their chin expands like an accordion to let in thousands of litres of water that contains their food (fish or krill).

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Diagram of a blue whale taking a bite. 1: The whale’s mouth is closed and its shape is hydrodynamic. 2: The whale opens its mouth, its ventral grooves expand, and the mouth balloons with water and food. Baleen can be seen on the upper jaw. 3: The whale closes its still bulging mouth. The ventral grooves contract and water is expelled through the baleen and between the lips.

How does a whale use its baleen?

Another foraging technique is skimming. With its mouth half open, the whale slowly swims along so that prey-laden water floods its cavernous mouth.

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Diagram of a right whale taking a bite: water and food enter the mouth through the opening in the front, which lies between two curtains of baleen on either side. Water is expelled out the sides, passing through the baleen.

Could a whale ever swallow one of us?

Even with a mouth the size of a swimming pool, a blue whale would not be able to swallow a human! Why not? A blue whale’s esophagus is adapted to the size of its prey, with an opening about the size of a melon (15 to 25 cm).

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A humpback whale surfaces with its mouth agape. A gull flutters just above the whale’s mouth.

How do whales digest the shells of crustaceans?

Whales don’t have hands to shell krill the way a human might peel shrimp, but this is not a problem since they are able to digest these shells. How so? Thanks to their intestinal flora.

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Diagram of a blue whale and its digestive system. A close-up view of its intestine shows bacteria from its intestinal flora.

If B285 visited the St. Lawrence, it was because she found an abundance of food in these waters. A number of whales come to this sector to stock up on their reserves. Caution should be exercised to avoid disturbing them when they’re feeding...

Watching whales in their natural environment is a popular activity. Some people like to observe them from as close as possible. However, if we get too close, we also risk disturbing them.

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A cruise ship and four Zodiacs are clustered together.

How do we know whether or not we’re disturbing a whale? We must be able to observe whether the animal alters its behaviour in our presence.

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Diagram showing a whale’s dive profile in a scenario with boats and a scenario without boats.

How we approach whales influences their behaviour. In the St. Lawrence, a whale that is disturbed runs the risk of eating less...

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Back of a blue whale. The vertebrae can be seen poking out from under the flesh and the sides are slightly concave.

What can be done to minimize disturbance to whales?

Diagram showing a boat and a blue whale with a distance of 400 m between them.

Keep our distance from these animals.

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In the foreground is the tail of a diving humpback. In the background, a whale-watching boat slowly moves away.

Adopt good boating practices.

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What can be done on an individual level to minimize disturbance to whales?

We can all do our part to avoid disturbing whales by adopting best practices and complying with approach distances.

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The back of a surfacing blue whale can be seen in the foreground. In the background, a small watercraft with two passengers keeps a safe distance and is positioned parallel to the animal’s trajectory.

Now that you’ve heard B285’s story, let’s go meet the other whales!

See the skeleton in 3D
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