W is for Whales.

Whale is a pretty vague name – referring to most species of the Cetacea order. The term ‘Whale’ should include all members of the Cetacea, but it often excludes species of Dolphins and Porpoises. There are two sub-orders of whales: The Baleen Whales which are the sieve-feeding species, and the Toothed Whales – which include sperm whales and killer whales (as well as dolphins).

Baleen Whales contain the largest animal to have ever lived – the Blue Whale. The blue whale can grow to 100 feet in length and weigh up to 200 tonnes! Interestingly, it is not thought to be the longest living animal as this record is held by the ‘Bootlace Worm’ which can grow up to 200 feet in length! The blue whale is only able to grow to this size because it lives in water. If it were to be land animal, it would almost certainly collapse in of itself because of the absence of buoyancy from the water. Blue whales are so large that you could actually swim in its arteries, its heart is the size of a small car, it’s tongue can weigh up to 3 tonnes and has a 3 metre penis. Despite this, the largest thing a whale could swallow is a grapefruit because the size of the throat is minute in comparison to the rest of its body. This doesn’t hamper the whale in way because it feeds on small fish like krill. They are consumed by pushing water with high pressure through its sieve-like teeth, allowing the small fish to come through, but stopping larger debris from falling through. The feeding mechanism is so efficient that it can feed on 40 million krill on one day! This is needed to fulfil 1.5 million calorie requirement the blue whale needs!

The toothed whales are different to Baleen’s for a number of reasons. They have 1 blow hole instead of 2 and are generally much smaller than the Baleen’s. One of the most famous toothed whales is the Narwhal but they are really an anomaly in the toothed whales because they hardly have any teeth. Most of the toothed whales do have teeth, ranging in size and amount. Some dolphins for example have over 100 teeth whilst other whales have one set of about 12 teeth. Perhaps the most bizarre toothed whale is the Beaked Whale. Beaked whales have the record for the longest dive of any mammal – with a dive time of well over 2 hours and a depth of more than 1,000 metres. What’s more, beaked whales have extremely weird teeth. Only the males of the beaked whales have teeth – the females just don’t grow them. The teeth the males do have are really small and are not really used that much in the feeding process!

Finally here is a story about perhaps the loneliest animal in the world:

Whales communicate over vast distances of the ocean. For hundreds and hundreds of miles, whales are able to speak to one another through a vocal ‘song’. These songs would deafen humans but we cannot hear them. Most whale songs are below the human hearing frequency and register at about 10-20 Hertz. However, in 1989 a team of scientists discovered a song of a frequency at 52 Hertz. This was much higher than anything heard before and it confused scientists because they were unsure what it was. The sad thing was that there was only one call – only one animal was producing the sound. This meant that the whale responsible was unable to communicate with other animals as their song was on an altogether different wave length to other whales. It would be like a child being born only being able to speak an alien language – in the end, the whale must have been very lonely. There are a few theories of how this whale came about. One is that it is hybrid species – a mix between two different species of whale and therefore cannot ‘speak’ in either of the its parents language. Another theory is that the whale was born deaf and so can not distinguish between sounds and so does not know that is speaking in a totally alien way! Just remember, when you’re feeling down and alone, it could be worse – you could be a whale.

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