Pygmy Blue Whale

(Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda)

Melville, the NT's Pygmy Blue Whale

In 1981, museum staff recovered the weathered and fragile bones of a 21.9 metre Pygmy Blue Whale that had washed up on the coast near Cape Hotham, northeast of Darwin. In Northern Territory waters, Blue Whales are known from only this beached specimen, and a few bones observed near Port Essington in 2003. The MAGNT Pygmy Blue Whale is a valuable scientific record of this endangered species in the Northern Territory.

In 1991, a decade after the bones were recovered from Cape Hotham, MAGNT officially opened the display of this unique specimen in the Maritime Gallery. It was taken down in 1999 and significant work is currently under way to revitalise and reinstate the skeleton. 

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Follow the visual journey as we lead up to Melville's reinstatement completion in the coming months.

 

1981 | Cape Hotham

1991 | The First Installation

2021-22 | The Reinstatement

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Stay tuned for more timeline updates!

 

Pygmy, but not small!

This skeleton belongs to a Pygmy Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda, the slightly smaller subspecies of the largest animal to ever live. Full sized Blue Whales inhabit all oceans except the Arctic and have been known to reach an immense 33.6 metres long and weigh up to 180 tonnes. Our Pygmy Blue Whale, thought to originate from a population in the Indian Ocean, is 21.9 metres long, which of course is certainly not small!

 

Pygmy Blue Whales reside for part of the year off the coast of Western Australia and migrate north to ‘winter’ in Indonesian waters, primarily in the Banda and Molucca Seas. The northern limits of their migration are potentially for breeding and calving as well as feeding grounds. Thums et al (2022) tagged Pygmy Blue Whales from southern Australia, and near Perth and Exmouth, WA to show Biologically Important Areas (BIAs) for migration, feeding and breeding.

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Image Source: Thums M et.al. (2022) Pygmy blue whale movement, distribution and important areas in the Eastern Indian Ocean.
Global Ecology & Conservation.doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2022.e02054   .

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A Pygmy Blue Whale swims in the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka.

Photo: Alex Mustard/Alamy Stock Photo

Blue Whales are baleen whales which means that they have become specialised for bulk feeding on small prey that congregate in large schools or swarms. They do this by taking in large mouthfuls of seawater including their prey and then filtering the prey out through bristly plates, called baleen, that hang from the roof of the mouth. Blue Whales, including Pygmy Blue Whales, feed almost entirely on krill, which are small planktonic crustaceans that live in vast swarms so dense that 500 kg can be eaten in a single mouthful.

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Thanks to our generous donors, we are currently working to reinstate the Pygmy Blue Whale