According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the blue whale is the largest animal known ever in existence. The gigantic marine mammals can reach lengths of up to 110 feet, roughly the length of two school buses. The largest blue whales weigh in at around 150 tons or three times that of a semitrailer truck. The animal’s heart along can reach the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Photos and descriptions of the animal do not do it justice. Here are a few more surprising facts about these mysterious creatures.
1. Blue Whales Are Enormous
“You never cease to be impressed by the force and presence of these animals. The full enormity of a blue whale may not be obvious from above the water’s surface, but when you’re next to a blue whale underwater, it’s magnificent,” says Richard Sears, the founder of the Mingan Island Cetacean Study. The nonprofit is dedicated to the study and conservation of many marine mammals.
2. Blue Whales Have Subspecies
Blue whales, or balaenoptera musculus, belong to a group of whales called rorquals. They are baleen whales with folds or grooves in their skin. This evolutionary trait allows them to expand their mouths to swallow more food. Blue whales belong to one of three subspecies. Groups have been discovered in the Northern Hemisphere and Antarctica. The third group, known as pygmy blue whales, are known to swim throughout the Indian Ocean and South Pacific.
3. They Have Land-Dwelling Ancestors
Believe it or not, the distant ancestors of the blue whale walked on land. Over time, they developed tools necessary for living in the water, including blowholes and blubber. Research has shown these land-dwelling ancestors were toothless and evolved with baleen to filter underwater food.
4. Evidence Of Ancestors Has Been Found In Ice
One animal believed to be the ancient ancestor of the blue whale is the Llanocetus denticrenatus. The animal lived around 34 million years ago. A skull was discovered in Antarctica with evidence of gums and teeth for tearing food apart.
5. Blue Whales Weren’t Always Huge
The unprecedented size of the blue whale evolved recently, studies suggest. The vast oceanic volume and all of the extra space in their new habitat contributed to their growth. The blue whales’ ability to efficiently feed on krill is also a likely contributor to the recent growth spurt.
6. Migration Patterns Point To Warmer Waters
The gentle giants are known to feed in cold waters. However, during the coldest parts of the year, blue whales migrate to warmer waters in order to give birth. Whales can travel thousands of miles in order to move from feeding waters to birthing areas.
7. Humans Can’t Hear Blue Whale Voices
Sound travels five times faster through the ocean than by air. Blue whales create extremely low-pitched and loud calls. Humans are unable to hear these calls and scientists are still working out the “vocabulary” of each call. According to National Geographic, different sounds can range from mating calls and navigation to detecting food and warning one another of nearby predators.
8. Tracking Blue Whales Can Be Difficult
Scientists have tracked certain whales returning to the same locations each year. Tracking whales in the ocean is a difficult task. Conclusions have yet to be made about whether missing whales traveled somewhere else or simply weren’t seen. Blue whales can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes. This allows them to travel long distances without being followed.
Whale Alert was developed to help prevent ship-strikes. This app has developed a network of shipping companies, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, shipping and technology companies. By reporting whales sightings, we can help vessels avoid hitting these awe-inspiring creatures.
9. A Blue Whale’s Diet Is Mainly Krill
Krill is the main source of food for these large ocean beings. They closely resemble shrimp and swim in large groups. Krill only grow to around one to two centimeters in length but gather in large concentrations throughout the ocean. The blue whale extends its mouth and swallows the water and krill. The water captured can weigh as much as the whale itself. Some species of krill can reach up to six inches in size. In one day, an average blue whale can consume up to 40 million krill totaling 8,000 pounds.
10. Whales Have Baleen Filters Instead Of Teeth
After swallowing the krill and ocean water, blue whales push the water back through their baleen filters. The baleen acts as a catcher to hold in the krill and send the water back into the ocean. Baleen, or thin plates which grow from the top of the animal’s mouth, are made up of keratin. This is the same protein that makes up hair and fingernails.
11. Blue Whales Grow Old
Estimates of a blue whale’s life vary. Scientists believe blue whales can live to be up to 90 years old. Sears has been tracking blue whales for 40 years. He says that he still sees some of the same individuals he first noticed at the beginning of his research.
12. There Aren’t Many Blue Whale Predators
A major reason for the long lifespan of the blue whale is minimal predators. Smaller calves can be targeted by general ocean predators, such as orcas. However, the older and larger blue whales scare off even the most ferocious hunters. Humans are the biggest threat to the blue whale’s survival.
13. Blue Whales Are An Endangered Species
The World Wildlife Fund has listed the blue whales as an endangered species. Commercial whaling has been a major threat to the decline of the blue whale. Currently, climate change, including massive amounts of ocean pollution, is the main contributor. Furthermore, the loud noise created by the ocean shipping industry remains a major concern.
14. Technology Can Help The Whales
Blue whales are extremely successful at evading humans. Sears states that scientists may only catch a glimpse of around five percent of a blue whale’s life. Technological advances in undersea drones and satellite tags may assist scientists in understanding a blue whale’s lifespan. Experts believe it will be two or three generations before we gain a significant understanding of blue whale behavior and social traits.
15. The Future Of The Colossal Whale Is Looking Up
Scientists estimate there are anywhere between 10,000 to 18,000 blue whales in existence. Exact amounts are impossible due to the sheer distances each whale travels per year. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources says the global population is increasing. As long as we continue to cater to the survival of the species, the blue whale will inspire tales of its magnificence for generations to come.