This paper addresses the problem of automated detection of Z-calls emitted by Antarctic blue whales (B. m. intermedia). The proposed solution is based on a subspace detector of sigmoidal-frequency signals with unknown time-varying amplitude. This detection strategy takes into account frequency variations of blue whale calls as well as the presence of other transient sounds that can interfere with Z-calls (such as airguns or other whale calls). The proposed method has been tested on more than 105?h of acoustic data containing about 2200?Z-calls (as found by an experienced human operator). This method is shown to have a correct-detection rate of up to more than 15% better than the extensible bioacoustic tool package, a spectrogram-based correlation detector commonly used to study blue whales. Because the proposed method relies on subspace detection, it does not suffer from some drawbacks of correlation-based detectors. In particular, it does not require the choice of an a priori fixed and subjective template. The analytic expression of the detection performance is also derived, which provides crucial information for higher level analyses such as animal density estimation from acoustic data. Finally, the detection threshold automatically adapts to the soundscape in order not to violate a user-specified false alarm rate.