Sunday, 9 November 2014

Bryde's Whale

We have seen Bryde’s Whale in several parts of the world. When one is seen, the Brits shout ‘brides’ across the deck while the hispanophones (in the Galapagos, for example) shout ‘bridies’, pronounced as the Scottish pasty. I now find we are all wrong.

Bryde’s whale is named after the Norwegian, Johan Bryde (1858-1925) who founded the whaling industry in South Africa. The pronunciation is something like ‘brude’s’ or 'brudess' (I can never get my tongue round Scandinavian pronunciation or its rules, despite being born in the old Danelaw part of England where streets are still ‘gates’. So next time you are whale-watching you can smugly shout ‘Brude’s’ across the deck, while the rest of the crowd wonder what on earth you are talking about.

I also had not know, until I started looking it up, how much uncertainty there is on the taxonomy of Bryde’s Whale and how much more needs to be known before more definitive pronouncements can be made. The IUCN Red List has the details of the various forms that go under the heading of Bryde’s.

Balaenoptera edeni (Anderson, 1879) is the scientific name in use because Bryde’s Whale, described from specimens killed off South Africa by Olsen in 1913 and named B. brydei, was considered to be synonymous with the form described by Anderson which was collected just off the shore of Burma. The original edeni (Eden’s Whale) is thought to be smaller at maturity than ‘ordinary’ Bryde’s whale and has been called the ‘pygmy’ version; some have now separated the two into the original two species; some consider them subspecies.

Bryde's Whales off Mirissa, Sri Lanka, 26 November 2013                                                           AJP Photograph

There have been other findings of similar whales that further confuse the issue but the point of mentioning the two forms in the current context is that in the northern Indian Ocean, off the southern tip of Sri Lanka, we saw Bryde’s Whales on both days we were there in November 2013, along with the Blue Whales, Orcas and Spinner Dolphins. I now see that there is a claim, with a video on Youtube and articles in the Sri Lankan press, of a possible sighting of Eden’s Whale, the dwarf or pygmy form or separate species, off Sri Lanka. I saw a number of critical comments as to this identification but they seem to have disappeared when I looked for them again. But this observation illustrates how much there is still to find out about marine mammals and how difficult research is in this field.