54 Swimming Facts about Whales | FactRetriever.com

54 Swimming Facts about Whales

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published June 18, 2017
  • Like dolphins and porpoises, whales are believed to have descended from land animals that returned to the water roughly 50 million years ago after living millions of years on land.[8]
  • Because whales must rise to the surface often to breathe, only one half of their brain sleeps at a time.[8]
  • Most etymologists believe the word “whale” comes from the High German word hwal, but it is also possible that it derived from the Old English word for “wheel” since the back of a whale rolling at the surface of the water resembles the rim of a large, submerged wheel.[15]
  • Whales swim by moving their tails up and down in a vertical motion. In contrast, fish move their tails from side to side.[15]
  • When a blue whale dives into the water, its head is already deeper than most scuba divers dare to go before its tail leaves the surface of the water.[6]
  • Sperm whales can dive as deep as two miles into the water, and their bodies have unique physiological adaptations to allow them to survive the intense cold and crushing pressure of these dives. They can limit circulation to the brain and other organs, slow the heart to 10 beats per minute to conserve oxygen, and collapse the lungs and rib cage to withstand pressure.[17]
  • Flukes are the two lobes of the whale tail
  • “Fluking” is the term used for when a whale lifts its tail out of the water prior to making a deep dive. Because each whale species’ tail has unique features, fluking allows whale observers to identify species at a distance.[11]
  • Prior to the invention of deep submersible boats, the sole source of knowledge about the ocean’s depths came from scientific examination of the stomach contents of sperm whales. The sperm whale often dives below 10,000 feet in pursuit of squid but must return to the surface in order to breathe.[17]
  • Whales do not drink seawater; instead, they extract water from their food by metabolizing fat.[15]
  • Biologists believe that whales (and modern hoofed animals) evolved from a group of extinct land mammals called mesonychid condylarths. The mesonychids resembled a slim wart hog without the tusks.[15]
  • The humpback whale breaches more often than any other whale, sometimes leaving the water completely during a leap. This is quite a feat considering that a humpback whale can weigh as much as 30 tons.[8]
  • Whales have no natural predators aside from humans, who have hunted the large mammals for thousands of years for their meat and other raw materials.[15]
  • As early as 3000 B.C., Inuit populations hunted gray whales using only stones, driftwood, and the body parts of other animals as weapons.[15]
  • Most species of toothed whales live in matrilineal pods, dominated by mothers, aunts, daughters, and sisters. Males typically stay with a pod for only a year or two after birth and then leave to visit other female pods to mate.[15]
  • In about 40 years, a gray whale migrates a total distance that is equivalent to the moon and back.[2]
  • Most whale photos you see show whales in this beautiful blue water---it's almost like space.

    - Brian Skerry

  • Because whales typically use hearing as their primary sense, they have very small eyes in proportion to their overall body size.[6]
  • During the 20th century, whalers killed nearly 3 million whales, and nearly wiped out 90% of all blue whales. Humpback and blue whales remain close to extinction.[19]
  • Sperm whale poo (ambergris) could potentially be worth about $10,000 per pound. It is most commonly found in expensive perfumes and musks.[3]
  • The only known white humpback whale in the world is named Migaloo, which means "white fella" in a Queensland aboriginal dialect. It is a "special interest" whale, and anyone coming close to him will be fined $13,500.[12]
  • A blue whale's heart can weigh as much as car.[5]
  • A blue whale's tongue can weigh as much as an elephant.[5]
  • A blue whale's life span in the wild can be reach up to 90 years.[5]
  • Scientists are not sure why whales jump out of the water, often called “breaching.” While early whalers thought breaching was a whale’s method of taunting the fishermen, many biologists now believe breaching is a whale’s way of demonstrating stamina and strength to prospective mates.[15]
  • Breaching may also play a role in both long-distance and close-range communication
  • Blue whales have fairer skin than other types of whales and, consequently, get sunburned more often when they come to the surface to breath, feed their young, and socialize. Scientists believe that the hole in the ozone layer is increasing the number and severity of the burns.[10]
  • A whale's earwax reveals a whale's age, similar to the way tree rings reveal the age of tree. It also reveals pollution levels in the whale's body, hormone levels at various stages in its life, and periods of starvation and abundance.[18]
  • When a blue whale exhales, the water from its blowhole can reach almost 30 feet into the air.[5]
  • At certain times of the year, a blue whale can eat over 4 tons of krill---in one day.[5]
  • Killer whales are not whales; they are the largest dolphin species. Whalers call them killer of whales" because orcas will eat sperm, gray, fin, humpback, and other whales.[20]
  • Whales have the some of richest milk of any mammal. A baby humpback whale can drink 150 gallons of milk a day.[4]
  • Blue whales can gulp down half a million calories in one mouthful.[3][23]
  • The name sperm whale comes from the spermaceti organ which is located in its head
  • The sperm whale has the biggest brain on land or in the water, at roughly 16 pounds. However, most of its is filled with fatty, yellow tissue called "junk."[1]
  • About 50 million years ago, whales walked on land and were about the size of a wolf.[7]
  • The deepest recorded dive by a whale is almost 2 miles for over 2 hours by a Cuvier's beaked whale.[2]
  • When a blue whale is born, it already weighs 3 tons and is 25 feet long. It gains about 200 pounds every day during its first year.[5]
  • A blue whale's cry can be louder than a jet engine and can last up to 30 seconds. The sperm whale actually is the loudest whale, at 230 decibels, but a sperm whale's sound lasts just 100 microseconds.[5]
  • The whale with the longest teeth is male narwhal. The left tooth grows through the whale's lip to about 7-10 feet. They were sold in the Middle Ages as unicorn horns. [2]
  • Though their specific range varies according to species, whales live in all the world's oceans.[15]
  • The most endangered specie of whale is Bryde's whale. There are only about 50 living in the Gulf of Mexico.[2]
  • The longest living whale is the Bowhead whale. They can live over 200 years, making them the oldest living mammals on earth.[2]
  • An adult hunchback whale may be the host to as many as half a ton of barnacles. In an attempt to remove the hitch-hiking barnacles and the drag they cause, whales slough off patches of skin continuously.[11]
  • Known as "canaries of the sea," beluga whales make chirping sounds like the little bird.[2]
  • The blue whale is the largest of all whales and is also considered the largest animal to have ever existed in the world. An adult blue whale can measure up to 108 feet in length and can weigh nearly 200 tons.[6]
  • Blue whales are currently classified as endangered on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List
  • The fin whale is known as the "greyhound of the sea" and can reach speeds of up to 20 mph (32kph).[2]
  • Hippos are the closest living relative to whales.[14]
  • There are 78 species of whales on earth.[8]
  • When they sleep, sperm whales hang vertically in the water with their noses poking poking out of the water.[16]
  • While baleen whales make low frequency sounds, toothed whales make high-frequency sounds.  Additionally, while baleen whales use sounds as communication, toothed whales use sound for hunting and navigating.[22]
  • Whales can swallow their weight in water when they feed. A special organ about the size of grapefruit located in their chin helps the whales filter the vast amounts of water without injury.[21]
  • Herman Melville based his famous whaling novel Moby Dick on his own experiences aboard whaling ships
  • Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, based his story on a real albino whale named Mocha Dick that sunk a whaling ship in 1820. The crew survived, but washed ashore on a island, where they had to resort to cannibalism.[13]
  • Another name for whales is cetacea, which is from the Greek word Keto, who was the goddess of sea monsters.[9]
  • Baleen whales (in contrast to toothed whales) are also known as "Mysticeti," which is "mustached whales." While baleen whales have teeth as a fetus, they only develop baleen, which is made of keratin. Baleen is similar to the ridges on top of a human's mouth.[6]
  • Because whales have so much blubber, they would easily float. To counteract this, their bones are extra heavy.[8]
  • Gray whales were once known as “devilfish,” due to the ferocity with which a female gray whale will protect its young.[8]
  • The beluga whale is the only member of the cetacean order capable of facial expressions.[8]
References

1"5 Strange Brains in the Animal Kingdom." Mental Floss. Accessed: June 2017.

2"About Whales and Dolphins." WDC. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

3"Ambergris, Sperm Whale Poop, Is Almost Literally Worth Its Weight In Gold." HuffPost. February 15, 2012. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

4"Baby Humpbacks Need 150 Gallons of Whale Milk." Smithsonian. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

5"Blue Whale." National Geographic. 2017. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

6Bortolotti, Dan. Wild Blue: A Natural History of the World’s Largest Animal. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008.

7Briggs, Helen. "When Whales Walked the Land." BBC News. September 21, 2005. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

8Carwardine, Mark. Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises. New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley, 1995.

9"Cetacea." Etymology Online. Accessed: June 18, 2017.

10Derbyshire, David. "Whales Getting Sunburnt Because of Holes in the Ozone Layer." Daily Mail. November 10, 2010. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

11Ellis, Richard. The Book of Whales. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1985.

12"Exclusion Zone for Special Whale." BBC News. June 30, 2009. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

13Heller, Steven. "The Whale That Inspired Moby Dick Swims Again." The Atlantic. August 21,2014. Accessed: June 17, 2017.

14"Is The Hippopotamus The Closest Living Relative To The Whale?" Science Daily. March 19, 2009. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

15Jones, David. Whales. Vancouver, BC, Canada: Whitecap Books, Ltd., 2005.

16Kaplan, Matt. "Researchers Sneak up on Sleeping Whales." Nature. February 21, 2008. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

17Kelsey, Elin. Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009.

18Khan, Amina."Like a Tree's Rings, Blue Whale's Earwax tells a Story of its Life." LA Times. September 18, 2013. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

19Krisch, Joshua, and EJ Fox. "We Killed Nearly 3 Million Whales In The Past Century." Vocative. March 14, 2015. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

20"Orca." National Geographic. 2017. Accessed June 16, 2017.

21Welsh, Jennifer. "Whale's Big Gulp Aided by Newfound Organ." Live Science. May 23, 2010. Accessed: June 17, 2017.

22"Whales, Dolphins, and Sound." Australian Government. Accessed: June 18, 2017.

23Yong, Ed. "Blue Whales Can Eat Half a Million Calories in a Single Mouthful." Discover. December 9, 2010. Accessed: June 16, 2017.

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