Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera brydei)

Brydes Whale in the Sardine Run

The Bryde’s whale (pronounced “broo-dess”), is named after Johan Bryde who helped build the first whaling factory in Durban, South Africa in 1909. The Bryde’s whale is the only baleen whale species that lives all year-round in warmer waters near the equator. In addition to the “ordinary” Bryde’s whale, with a worldwide distribution in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, one or more smaller forms which tend to be more coastal in distribution have also been described. For the moment, the taxonomic status of the smaller forms is unclear and there may be several additional species and/or subspecies however currently two are recognised; B. e. brydei – offshore Bryde’s whale, B. e. edeni – Eden’s whale.

The Bryde’s whale is the only whale frequently observed feeding on the sardine bait balls of South Africa’s annual sardine run. Shallow bait balls will often be engulfed in their entirety by a lunging Bryde’s whale. As a baleen whale, the Bryde’s Whale will suck in a massive amount of water and bait fish during a single lunge at a bait ball. Once captured, the whale will stain out seawater through the baleen and retain the fish. For divers in the water, the presence of these massive baleen whales can be intimidating, and lunge feeding Bryde’s wales have been known to almost knock, and some claim “swallow” humans as they engulf sardine bait balls.



The Bryde’s whale has three parallel ridges on the top of its head. It has between 40 and 70 throat pleats which allow its mouth to expand when feeding. As with some of the other baleen whales, the Bryde’s whale primarily eats schooling fish and sometimes krill and other planktonic crustaceans. The Bryde’s whale has a slender body which is smoky blue-grey in colour with a sickle-shaped dorsal fin. The body is often mottled with some scars caused by parasites and/or cookie-cutter sharks. The flippers are slender, pointed and relatively short – approximately one tenth of their body length. The broad, distinctive tail flukes are rarely seen above the surface.


The Bryde’s whale usually feeds alone, though mothers and calves often feed together. It is known to make sudden changes of direction when feeding both on the surface and underwater. Sometimes inquisitive, the Bryde’s whale can be seen approaching or swimming alongside boats. It has irregular breathing patterns, and will often blow four to seven thin, hazy spouts, followed by a dive, usually about two minutes long, although it is capable of staying below the surface for longer. They have also been seen to blow or exhale whilst underwater. When surfacing between dives, the Bryde’s whale rarely shows more than the top of its head.

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