Facts About Whales
Did you know…?
The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth; it is larger than any of the giant dinosaurs were. The biggest recorded blue whale was a female in the Antarctic Ocean that was 30.5 m long (more than 3.5times the length of a double-decker bus and as long as a Boeing 737plane) with an estimated weight of 144 tonnes (almost the same as 2,000men!). The tongue alone of a blue whale can weigh as much as an elephant and an entire football team could stand on it!
The heart of a blue whale is about the size of a VW Beetle car and weighs up to 1000 pounds – that’s about as much as 1,111 cans of baked beans!The aorta, a major blood vessel for the heart, is big enough for a human child to crawl through.
In terms of length, the Hector's dolphin and the vaquita (a species of porpoise) are probably the smallest at about 1.4 metres. However, in terms of weight the finless porpoise probably wins as the lightest cetaceans, reaching a maximum weight of 55kg. Approximately 3000 finless porpoises would weigh the same as one blue whale.
Blue whales are pregnant for almost 2 years! The newborn calf is about 7.5 m long and weighs about 5.5 – 7.3 tonnes –nearly as much as 100 men! A baby blue whale drinks about 225 litres (about enough to fill a bath) of it’s mother’s fat-laden milk (it is 40-50% fat and about the consistency of cottage cheese) a day, gaining 3.7 kilograms an hour,until at age 8 months they are 15 m long and 22.5 tonnes! The mother and calf may stay together for a year or longer, until the calf is about 13 m long. Blue whales reach maturity at 10-15 years.
Sperm whales are champion divers. Adults can stay underwater for almost two hours and dive to depths of 2,000 metres, maybe more!
They eat squid, which can live very deep in the ocean, so sperm whales have to dive down into the deepest parts of the sea to catch them. No one is quite sure how they make such deep dives.
It’s hard to understand just how deep 2000m under the sea is, but try to imagine the Eiffel Tower in Paris – now picture seven of them going down into the ocean and it’s like diving down the length of all seven. Humans definitely couldn’t do that - the water pressure would squash us.
The sperm whale’s huge head, which is up to a third of its overall body length, houses the heaviest brain in the animal kingdom - up to 9kg. The head also consists of a cavity large enough to park a car inside that contains a yellowish wax called spermaceti.
THICKEST BLUBBER AND LONGEST BALEEN
The bowhead whale, which lives exclusively in the Arctic, has the thickest blubber of all cetaceans. It can reach a whopping 70cm in thickness. These whales also have the longest baleen – the comb-like structures hanging down from their upper jaws used as a sieve to filter food from the sea-water. These baleen plates can reach up to 5 metres in length – taller than a double-decker bus!
The southern right whale has the largest testes in the animal kingdom –each pair weighing around a tonne. That’s the same as 1,000 bags ofsugar!
The male narwhal has two teeth. The left one pierces the animal’s lip and grows to an incredible 2-3 metres. In Europe, these tusks were once sold as the horns of the mythical unicorn.
An individual fin whale pees about 970 litres per day. That’s enough to fill up more than 3 bathtubs!
The vaquita, which in Spanish means little cow, has the unenviable title of being the most endangered cetacean. It is only found in a small area of the northern Gulf of California. The worldwide population is estimated to be between 100 and 500 individuals, but most likely around 125.
Maui’s dolphins (a sub-species of the world’s smallest dolphin - the Hectors dolphin) are found off the North Island of New Zealand and have a population currently only numbering approximately 111 individuals. It is also one of the world’s most endangered cetaceans.
The Yangtze River dolphin, also called the baiji is unfortunately now classed as extinct.
In the wild cetaceans live for a long time - generally the larger species living longest. Bowhead whales spend their lives in cold Arctic waters. They may be the world’s oldest mammals and are the longest lived of all whales – possibly over 200 years!
Beluga whales are called the "canaries of the sea" because they make sounds like the little yellow birds.
Blue whales are the loudest creatures on Earth! Their call reaches levels up to 188 decibels and can be heard hundreds of miles away. The blue whale is louder than a jet, which reaches only 140 decibels. Sounds over 120-130 decibels are painful to human ears.
Male humpback whales sing the most complex songs and have long, varied, eerie, and beautiful songs that include recognizable sequences of squeaks, grunts, and other sounds. The songs have the largest range of frequencies used by whales, ranging from 20-9,000 Hertz. Only males have been recorded singing. They sing the complex songs only in warm waters, perhaps used for mating purposes. In cold waters, they make rougher sounds, scrapes and groans, perhaps used for locating large masses of krill (the tiny crustaceans that they eat).
The humpbacks that feed in Antarctic waters and swim north to breed off Colombia and Panama make the longest confirmed migration of any mammal.
Grey whales also migrate huge distances. Some travel a round-trip of between 16,000-20,000 km (10,000-12,400 miles) every year between their winter calving lagoons in the warm waters of Mexico and their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic seas. To put that into perspective, Africa is approximately 8,000 km (5,000 miles) from north to south and you’d need to run a whopping 475 marathons to cover that distance – whew!
In its lifetime – that’s about 40 years – a grey whale travels a distance that is equivalent to going to the moon and back!
Read our reports
Sign up for our newsletter
Read our blogs