Bitcoin whales: what are they – and how are they affecting the cryptocurrency's price?

  • There are around 1,000 individuals, known as whales, who own 40% of the market. 
  • Whales have the potential to manipulate the currency valuations.
  • "The big players can easily move the price," crypto-skeptic David Gerard, told The Telegraph.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A bitcoin whale is a term that refers to individuals or entities that hold large amounts of bitcoin, according to Investopedia. There are around 1,000 individuals who own 40% of the market.

Whales have the potential to manipulate the currency valuations and, given bitcoin's fluctuations in recent weeks, they are increasingly under the spotlight.

The Telegraph reported on Friday that, according to industry data, around 13% of all Bitcoin, or around $80 billion, sits in just over 100 individual accounts. It added that the top 40% of all bitcoin (approximately $240 billion) is held by just under 2,500 known accounts, out of roughly 100 million in total.

How do whales impact bitcoin's price?

The number of addresses holding more than 1,000 bitcoin is at 2,334, a new all-time high, according to CoinDesk.

Single trades made by such whales can lead to huge changes to the price of bitcoin – swamping any movements by smaller investors, The Sun reported.

Bitcoin reached a record high of $41,973 on January 8. However, on Friday Insider reported that the cryptocurrency was on course for its biggest weekly price fall since September. It recovered to around $32,170 by Saturday morning, leaving it down about 10% since Monday. 

Back in November, CoinDesk studied data from crypto exchange OKEx to provide a possible explanation of how whales were able to influence prices as the cryptocurrency soared. "During that bitcoin run-up, institutions and whales were able to buy dips and oftentimes sell when prices went up. That left the majority of the retail investors scrambling to chase the rally," the report said.

David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain and a known crypto-skeptic, was quoted in The Telegraph report as saying: "The big players can easily move the price" because the bitcoin trading market is very thin…. Any one of them could crash it."

There is not a lot of available volume to trade, he said, adding that there were all kind of "trading shenanigans," which would not occur in regulated markets. 

What does the future hold for bitcoin?

On Tuesday, Biden's pick for treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, suggested lawmakers curtail cryptocurrencies like bitcoin due to concerns they are mainly used for illegal activities.

However, a Biden administration could be friendly to crypto, according to Yahoo Finance, given its pick of crypto expert Gary Gensler as SEC chairman. 

Insider published an op-ed on Thursday stating that the federal government's signals to cryptocurrency has been confusing.

The article was written by James Ledbetter, chief content officer at Clarim Media and editor and publisher of FIN. It stated: "If the US wants to keep up with the global development of digital currencies, Biden's team must clearly answer some basic questions, like which ones will be regulated as securities, and will a Bitcoin-based ETF be approved?"

It remains to be seen whether these questions will be answered by the administration any time soon, however. 


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