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Bitcoin Whales: What & Who Are They?

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Bitcoin (BTC) Whales
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As the price of Bitcoin reached an all-time-high of $73,750, this week, our curiosity may turn to these mythical figures known as whales. But what is a whale and who are they?

A Bitcoin whale has traditionally referred to a person who owns over 10,000 Bitcoins ($737,500,000 at peak value). However, the definition now seemingly extends to institutions like BlackRock, Grayscale, and Fidelity, who have been snapping-up billions of dollars worth of Bitcoin in order to support their spot ETF products.

Bitcoin will only ever have 21 million Bitcoins in full circulation. Currently, there are some 19,654,125 in circulation and it is predicted that we will reach peak circulation in around 2040, when the last Bitcoin will be minted.

Essentially, think of Bitcoin as the Louis Vuitton of crypto —in massive demand but with limited supply. So, who are these owners of the most coveted digital asset in world history…

The Largest Whales (>10,000 Bitcoins)

Note: $ values are rounded-up and based on the all-time-high price in March 2024 of $73,750

Crypto-exchanges (2.3M Bitcoins / $170 Billion): It is believed that centralized crypto exchanges are holding around 11% or 2,300,000 Bitcoins on behalf of their customers. This is a scary thought given what happened with the FTX exchange where customers lost access to their assets. Never forget: Non-custodial IS THE WAY. If you are storing your assets on a centralized exchange, you need to remedy this immediately and store them in a non-custodial wallet where you are fully responsible for your assets and their security and nobody can restrict your access to them.

Anonymous Whales (1.6M Bitcoins / $118 Billion): Back in the day, it was normal and easy to create a Bitcoin wallet 100% anonymously without ever needing to verify your identity (KYC). There are around 80 of these truly anonymous wallets with at least 10,000 Bitcoins in each one. It is possibly that some of these holders forgot they own them, they died or something else.

Satoshi Nakamoto (1.1M Bitcoins / $81 Billion): Bitcoin's anonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, is estimated to hold 1.1 million bitcoins representing 4.5% of the total supply. These coins have remained untouched for years. His Bitcoin holdings would rank him in the top 25 wealthest people in the world.

Investment Firms (950,000 Bitcoins / $70 Billion): In January, US authorities approved regulated firms to sell Spot Bitcoin ETFs. Prominent firms like BlackRock, Grayscale, Fidelity and others purchased over 933,000 bitcoins. With spot ETFs, investment firms are required to hold the requisite amount of the digital asset on their books. This institutional influx has buoyed Bitcoin's value and investment firms now hold about 4.5% of the total supply.

Law Enforcement (335,000 Bitcoins / $25 Billion): Global police forces often dismantle cyber-crime rings and illegal marketplaces, confiscating large bitcoin caches. Since 2020, the US has executed three significant Bitcoin seizures totaling nearly 200,000 bitcoins from these operations. Another wallet was also identified containing 30,000 bitcoins linked to the US shutdown of Silk Road. The UK seized 61,000 bitcoins in 2018, and German authorities are believed to hold 50,000 bitcoins from a recent bust.

MicroStrategy (205,000 Bitcoins / $15 Billion): MicroStrategy and its subsidiaries hold approximately 193,000 bitcoins and with recent purchases, it the single largest organizational owner of the cryptocurrency. Michael Saylor, the companies CEO & Founder is a vocal advocate for Bitcoin and convinced the board to implement an aggressive Bitcoin purchasing strategy. It’s paid off in a major way.

Mt Gox (142,000 Bitcoin / $10.5 Billion): In a flurry of disastrous hacks and mishaps, the world's first major crypto-exchange, Mt Gox, lost about 850,000 bitcoins in 2011. Nobody truly knows what happened to the coins. It is assumed that the majority were sold on the open market. Around 80,000 sit untouched and unrecoverable in a single wallet. As of 6 July 2022, a Japanese trustee of the now defunct Mt. Gox is holding close to 142,000 Bitcoins.

Block One (140,000 Bitcoins / $10 Billion): In 2020, the CEO of crypto-software makers Block One tweeted that his company has continued buying bitcoins after an initial purchase of 140,000. So the true figure is likely to be much higher. The firm did not respond to our email.

The Winklevi (70,000 Bitcoins / $5.2 Billion): The exact number of Bitcoins currently owned by the crypto-entrepreneur brothers remains uncertain. However, in a 2017 interview with the New York Times, they disclosed owning about 70,000 Bitcoins and stated they had not sold any.

USDT/Tether (67,000 Bitcoins / $4.9 Billion): Tether, the popular stablecoin, is backed by a company that has been accumulating bitcoins for years to bolster its reserves. Industry experts estimate that the firm holds approximately 67,000 bitcoins, evidenced by the disclosed dollar equivalent in Bitcoin assets.

Public Bitcoin Miners (40,000 Bitcoins / $2.95 Billion): Bitcoin mining companies, which maintain the blockchain through powerful computers, are compensated with bitcoins in a process known as mining.

Tim Draper (30,000 Bitcoins / $2.2 Billion): Tim Draper, a US venture capitalist, garnered attention in 2014 for purchasing 30,000 bitcoins seized by the police from Silk Road at auction for c. $17 million. It is widely believed that he has significantly increased his holdings since then.

Michael Saylor (18,000 Bitcoins / $1.3 Billion): In October 2020, the MicroStrategy founder announced via tweet that he personally owned 17,700 bitcoins, a number that has likely increased since then.

Baby Whales (<10,000 Bitcoins)

Tesla (9,700 Bitcoins / $715 Million): Tesla's 2023 year-end quarterly earnings report made no mention of alterations to its Bitcoin holdings, implying the company retains around 9,700 Bitcoins. Initially, in 2021, Elon Musk's enterprise bought over 40,000 coins but has since sold the majority. This would mean they missed out on over a billion dollars for selling early.

Block (8,000 Bitcoins / $590 Million): Block, the payment firm headed by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and a staunch supporter of cryptocurrency, reported holding approximately 8,038 Bitcoins for investment, according to its latest earnings statement.

Peter Thiel (3,600 Bitcoins / $265.5 Million): The exact number of bitcoins owned by the billionaire investor is unclear, but his company has invested $100 million in buying bitcoins since 2023 and is likely to acquire more.

El Salvador (2,800 Bitcoins / $206.5 Million): In 2021, El Salvador's Bitcoin-enthusiast president began investing public funds in Bitcoin as part of a contentious investment strategy. The Bitcoin count is gathered from the president's tweets, as official records of the purchases and their values are not publicly disclosed.

Conclusion

As the underlying value of a single Bitcoin continues to rise, public and institutional interest will rise too. The spot ETF feeding-frenzy has clearly impacted the value and as institutions around the world scramble for a piece of the action, it is likely that the largest holders of Bitcoin will skew towards financial institutions who have access to overwhelming amounts of capital and can buy this asset with ease.

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Jun 26, 2024
Educational
Bitcoin (BTC)

3 min.
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