Whales, the giants of the sea, are a common marine mammal, but their characters sound more mythical than real. Until a few centuries ago, people knew more about other sea life than they did about whales, which is surprising considering the fact that they make the largest living organisms on earth. These creatures of the deep have evolved over the years beating extinction-level odds to become the wonder they are today. Despite the renewed interest by scientists in whales, there is still so much we don’t know about them. The fact, however, remains that humans have been less than helpful in the survival of these magnificent mammals, and most of them are on the verge of extinction. Here are some interesting facts about them.
Their Human Side
Dolphins were thought to be the most human-like marine mammal, but whales have since beaten them at that. Whale life is all about family, and, as recent researches discovered, they may well be the most social marine mammal after all. Like human beings, Whales teach their young ones to perform the actions they need for survival, including communication and hunting. Whale families are also close and very social. Protecting one another is the primary role of their matriarchal families. It is believed that whales also know how to express gratitude after one tried its best to thank a group of divers who helped it out of trouble.
The Blue Whales
The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived on earth and also one of the most magnificent creatures you will ever see. It can grow up to 30 meters (100ft) in length and weigh 190 tons. Its tongue alone is heavier than an adult elephant while its heart rivals the size of a car. To achieve this length, the young ones drink up to 600 liters of milk a day and gain up to 90 kilos in weight every day.
There were hundreds of thousands of these whales in the oceans, but the whaling madness of the 19th and the 20th century saw their numbers shrink to the brink of extinction. Currently, there are about 20,000 of them left, many of which are killed by large ships and deep-sea fishing.
Hunted For Nothing And Everything
Whale oil was once one of the highest-priced items on the planet. Their meat and blubber became more valuable after the 16th century, after which whaling industries were set up with specialized ships created just for hunting whales. The whalers mapped out the whale immigration routes around the ocean, and by the 1930s, up to 50,000 whales were being killed every year. The saddest fact is that some countries introduced hunting whales for sport to make whaling expeditions more popular.
By the 1950s, nearly every whale species on earth was on the brink of extinction. It is believed that some species may have gone extinct during the period. Some countries such as Japan still allow the hunting of whales while poachers also hunt them for the black market. The shipping and the fishing industries are now the greatest threat to the whales.
The Killer Whales
Killer whales, also known as orcas, have the reputation of being the most ferocious hunters of the ocean. They move around in large matriarchal schools, hunting and protecting their young. Killer whales are actually not whales; they are dolphins, which explains their peculiar social skills.
Their prey ranges from little seals to the great white shark, making them the only sea hunters to hunt down the great whites. They swarm around great white sharks then flip them on their backs, causing the sharks to be paralyzed. They also have a funny habit of only going after the sharks’ livers, which many scientists haven’t explained yet.
There are two types of whales, the toothed whales, and the baleen whales. The baleens are actually some of the largest, including the blue whales and the humpbacks, although these tend to feed on tiny sea creatures such as krill, fish, and crustaceans. Humpbacks are the best hunters for fish using a technique called bubble netting, which involves blowing bubbles around a school of fish.
They then scare the fish to come together near the water surface before swimming through the school one by one with open mouths to swallow as many as they can. Killer whales are the most organized hunters eating anything they can overpower, including sharks and other whales.
Whale songs are one of the least understood mysteries about whales. Baleens tend to moan, although some of them, including humpbacks, sing. Recording whale songs has created a whole art industry and, to a large extent, helped create more awareness on the need to protect whales. The blue whales are thought to be the loudest with their songs able to be heard from over 1500km away by other blues.
The humpback males are, however, the best singers of the ocean. Their songs evolve with time, just like human music, although no one really knows why they sing so well. It was thought they sing to attract females, but researchers have discovered that songs don’t necessarily help them earn females or beat the competition. Minke and fin whales also sing.
The Big And The Mighty
Blue whales are the largest animals to ever live on earth, but that doesn’t mean the other whales are any smaller. Blue whales are long and have slender bodies with powerful tail muscles that help them cruise the oceans at high speeds of up to 20mph. Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales, although most of their muscle is in the head, so they don’t have as mush cruising force as the blues. The orcas are, however, the most successful cetaceans in the sea despite not being the largest. The dolphins use the power of numbers to hunt and protect their young ones, making them the most successful colonizers in the oceans.
Bowhead whales may just hold the key to immortality after all. Most whales have nearly the same life expectancy as human beings, as most species live for 50 to 80 years. Smaller and more endangered species such as the pygmy sperm whales live for 25 to 35 years. There is little information on what really causes whales to die young or live long, but a study of orcas discovered that being away from family drastically reduces their lifespan. The bowhead whale has, however, been proven to beat all the odds of age after some were discovered to be over 200 years old and still going. They are believed to live for up to 268 years, making them the longest-living mammals on earth.
The Narwhal Whales
The Narwhale, as most people know them, are also one of the most mysterious whale species on earth. Their name, Nar, comes from old Norse for corpse because their bodies look like that of a dead sailor, well, in the artic at least. Their most defining feature is a long tusk, which tends to grow from the left canine through their lips.
The tusk can grow to a length of 10ft and weigh 22lbs. The main role of the tusk is not clearly known, although Narwhales have been seen using it to break the ice and to stun prey, making them easier to catch. The tusk is also a sensory organ that allows the whale to detect changes in the seawater around it.
Singing is not the only humpback wonder. Each pod (small group) has its own unique song, and the males make the most vocal singers of any whale species. Humpbacks are mostly known for jumping out of the water and performing acrobatics; The reason for that is also not known.
When they jump, you will notice some markings on their bellies, and they are actually unique for each humpback, just like a human fingerprint. Their most interesting feature is their blowhole. Each hole is connected to one part of the brain, which means a humpback whale can only allow one side of its brain to sleep at a time, so it doesn’t forget to breathe and suffocate.