Posted on Oct. 02, 2000 by CPO in Latest Stamps

Each day off the coasts of various parts of Canada, hopeful passengers embark on tours that take them on a unique search that of spotting whales at rest or play. Passengers are often rewarded with a glimpse of these majestic creatures; the luckiest disembark with a photo or two. On October 2, 2000, Canada Post will issue four domestic-rate ($0.46) commemorative stamps featuring whales that inhabit Canadian waters. Of the 35 species recorded in these waters, 21 are "common" or "regular." From these 21, two baleen (not-toothed) and two toothed whales have been selected for Canada Posts Whales issue.

Big Blue

The blue whale, one of the largest animals that has ever lived, can reach lengths of up to 33 metres and weigh up to 190 tonnes. As its name suggests, it is blue-grey in colour and has mottled light blue-grey oval spots on its flanks. Being a baleen whale, the blue has plates in its mouth with coarse bristles functioning as a filter to strain plankton, krill, and small fish. Most frequently spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the blue also inhabits waters off the coasts of Nova Scotia and British Columbia. However, the blue whale is now classed as "endangered," with only a few hundred left in the North Atlantic.

The Bowhead

The bowhead, also a baleen whale, is so-named for its distinctive bow-shaped skull. Heavier than most large whales for its length, it can grow to almost 14 or 15 metres. Bowheads are mainly blue-black or dark grey over most of their bodies, with cream-coloured patches on the lower jaw, white flashes on the belly, and occasionally some white or pale grey at the tail. Once abundant, it is now confined to Arctic and subarctic regions, relying on a thick layer of blubber to protect it from the cold. Its diet consists of very small crustaceans, which it takes in by slowly moving along with its mouth open.

The Smiling Beluga

Of the two toothed whales featured in this issue, the beluga is noted for its seemingly "fixed pleasant smile." Measuring (approximately) a metre and a half long at birth, the beluga can grow to nearly three metres long, with its birth-colour of dark brownish-grey fading to an adult white. The beluga uses its lips and forehead to make a variety of facial expressions, from smiles to frowns. It also emits a variety of sounds, from "moos" and clicks to squeaks and twitters. Living in the shallow coastal waters of the eastern and western Arctic and in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, the beluga spends almost all of its time near the surface, rarely breaching.

The Tusked Narwhal

Perhaps responsible for the myth of the unicorn, the narwhal is easily recognized by a single long tusk on most males. The tusk, which develops from a tooth in the upper left jaw, can measure two metres in length and is used in fights to establish dominance in the hierarchy. Subsisting on a diet of squid, shrimp, and fish, narwhals are common in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait, where occasionally, a tusk may be seen above water.

About the Artist

When Vancouver designer and illustrator Keith Martin began researching the subject matter for the Whales issue, scale became one of the most compelling aspects. His challenge in designing the stamps lay in using the space afforded by a postage stamp to accurately portray the majesty of the largest living animal ever. Resolution came by way of arranging the species into a single scene over the entire stamp pane, with each stamp focusing on a single whale and also carrying a fragment of the blue whale. By this arrangement, all whales are accurately portrayed in their range of relative size and physical characteristics. To carry the scene of this ethereal environment, metallic ink was used to mimic the play of light and current underwater.

Stamp Specifications

  • Denomination: 4 x 46¢
  • Design: Keith Martin
  • Dimensions: 56 mm x 27.5 mm (horizontal)
  • Gum Type: P.V.A.
  • Perforations: 13+
  • Printer: Ashton Potter
  • Printing Process: Lithography (eight colours)
  • Tagging: General, four sides
  • Quantity: 8,000,000
  • : Tullis Russell Coatings
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