whales

Let's learn a little more about whales!

They belong to what are called cetaceans, mammals adapted to marine life, the word comes from Greek, it was the famous philosopher Aristotle who coined the term to refer to aquatic animals equipped with pulmonary respiration like us humans.

Cetaceans include the animals known as whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Whales are amazing animals that live in the oceans, there are many species of them, some of which are in serious danger of extinction. Although it is incredible, there is little information about these animals, that is why it is important to preserve them to continue learning about them.

There are two types of whales, baleen and toothed whales. Here we can see an image that better represents this separation and groups all types of whales.

A very widespread debate is whether orcas are dolphins or whales... the most accurate answer is that they are dolphins, specifically they are the largest dolphins that exist, making them the most fearsome predator in the oceans, they do not have any predator, they are also fierce, extremely intelligent and sensitive, creating very deep bonds between the members of the pod. They belong to the toothed whales, so it is also correct to call them whales, so saying they are whales or dolphins is both correct!

SIZE AND WEIGHT

Their size and weight vary mainly according to the species:

Weight 1-180 tons.

Length 5-30 meters.

The largest of all is the blue whale, the largest animal on earth that has ever existed, even surpassing the dinosaurs, as they could reach a little more in length, in some exceptional cases reaching 38 meters, but none came close to its weight, the maximum for the dinosaurs being between 50-70 tons, far from what the blue whale can reach.

On the other hand, the smaller whales we find the pygmy whale, this is found in the southern hemisphere and is the only living species of the subfamily of neobalenids with a length of 6.5 meters and a weight of up to 3.5 tons. On the other hand, we have the Beluga whales, also called white whales, they have a very characteristic shape and color so they are very easily recognizable. They are found in the northern hemisphere, in Arctic waters, they reach 5 meters in length and weigh 1.6 tons.

LIFE EXPECTANCY

They are animals with a very high life expectancy, some species can even exceed 200 years as is the case of the bowhead whales, other species such as the blue whale average 70-90 years.

HABITAT AND MIGRATORY PROCESS

Here you can see an image of a recent study on the migratory behavior of some whales. It is a very interesting study to understand how they behave.


FEEDING OF WHALES

They are carnivorous animals. They eat approximately 4% of their body weight and their diet varies according to the species.

They travel enormous distances in search of food.

Baleen whales feed by filtration, through baleen plates that can be compared to a toothbrush. When feeding, they open their mouths and water and food enter, then they push the palate with their tongues and thanks to the baleen they expel the water from their mouths, leaving only the food inside. Their food is mainly plankton, krill and small fish such as herring or cod.

Toothed whales eat all kinds of animals, from rays, all kinds of fish to seals, sea lions, penguins, even sharks, polar bears or whales. Their teeth are used to hunt and kill the prey, although it may seem strange to us, they do not chew the food, they swallow it, in case it is very large, they would break it into several parts to be able to eat it.

Hatchlings feed exclusively on their mother's milk, which is 50% fat. The mother shoots the milk after stimulation of the calf, this milk is thick and does not dissolve in water, allowing the calf to eat it.

RISK TO WHALES

  • Hunting: Despite a moratorium on commercial whaling and a ban on international trade in whale products, three countries, Iceland, Japan and Norway, continue their commercial whaling. More than 1,000 whales are killed each year for commercial purposes.
  • Climate change: Warming oceans and loss of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic may affect whale habitats and feeding, causing whales to migrate much further to forage for food and affecting reproduction rates.

Whales have no natural predators, only killer whales, another type of whale, are their top predators.

In isolated cases, some sharks such as the white shark may prey on a calf or sick whales.

Some whales have developed group defense mechanisms, as is the case of the sperm whale, grouping on the member of the threatened group in formation leaving it in the center and the rest pointing their tails out to hit the predator that tries to approach (usually killer whales).

CURIOSITIES

play an important role in the overall health of the marine environment, they are crucial in moving vital nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen and iron through the ocean, mainly through their excrement, they also play an important role in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere; each of the great whales confines an estimated average of 33 tons of CO2, the equivalent of 1000 trees, thus contributing to the fight against climate change.

Did you know that whale vomit is more valuable than gold?

Its market value can reach 71 thousand dollars per kg. This substance is used in the elaboration of very expensive perfumes, besides it is also useful for some special medicine.

Did you know that the unicorn of the oceans is a whale?

It is the Narwhal whale, the males have one horn, in some cases even more than one. Females usually do not have a horn, although they can also have one.

In medieval Europe, the Vikings traded the horns of these animals passing them off as those of unicorns, thus encouraging the legend of the unicorn.

STRUCTURE AND ORGANIZATION

Whales live in pods, the size may vary, but generally there are more females than males. In some cases some whales live alone. Being in pods they do everything together. As they live for many years, they also develop strong bonds with each other. Both males and females help the pod to take care of the young. In case a mother, for example, is unable to give milk, another female will take her place to ensure the survival of the offspring. There have even been cases of "adoptions" between different species of whales, with one pod accepting a whale of another species lost in unknown waters, without this union to the group it would not have been able to survive, because the lost whale would not have known how to hunt in this unknown territory.

To communicate with each other they emit very characteristic sounds, they even have their own dialects or ways of communicating between each herd.

The whale that gets special mention in their way of emitting sounds is the sperm whale, they produce the loudest sound of all animals, reaching 236dB, louder than a rifle. They even use sound as a defense against killer whales. They could perforate the eardrum of a human if we were close when emitting it.

Whales are very intelligent animals, they also have a language for each pod, their own culture and learning. The way they hunt and adapt to the environment varies among different pods and regions, in many cases they carry out coordinated hunting strategies with very elaborate guidelines, these particularities are passed from generation to generation through the teachings of the elders to ensure the survival of the pod.