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Published on November 3rd, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie

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Blue Whale: The World’s True Giant

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Blue Whale Photo By Fred Benko

There is no getting away from the enormity of the blue whale. Its behemoth mass plays tricks on you. In fact, you could be easily forgiven for thinking that something this gigantic, this monstrous couldn’t surely be alive? But it is alive and not alone that, its sleek aerodynamic shape means its incredibly mobile too.

Despite weighing more than 25 times the weight of an adult male African Elephant, the Blue Whale could leave the elephant standing flat-footed in its wake, such is its pace.

Blue Whale

King Of The Rorquals

The Blue Whale is part of the Rorqual group of baleen whales which also contains the Fin Whale. Rorquals are giants of the sea. They have distinguishing folds running along the underside of their body from the lower jaw to the navel. These longitudinal sections expand when the whale is feeding allowing it hold mammoth quantities of water and food.

Big Feeders

As you would expect, as the largest known animal that has ever lived, the appetites of Blue Whales are voracious. When their prey is most plentiful they can eat up to two per cent of their own body weight – 4,000kg (8,800lbs). Although Blue Whales are still mysterious creatures, scientists believe that they spend eight months of the year feeding, sometimes they can eat continuously  for hours at a time.

The preferred food of the Blue Whale is krill which they feed on almost solely. Their feeding method is identical to the Fin Whale. After diving down to the required depth they lunge at their prey opening their massive jaws right and quickly hoovering up their prey. They filter out the water and lick off the food from the baleen hairs. Blue Whale Skull 5.8 Metres (19 feet)

Record Setter

As the largest known creature that ever lived, the Blue Whale holds many records. It has the largest heart of any animal at 600 kilogrammes (1,300 lbs) with an aorta over 20 centimetres in diameter (eight inches).  It can pump ten tonnes of blood around nearly two million kilometres (one million miles) of blood vessels. Unlike the heart of a human, which pumps on average at 72 times per minute, the heart of a Blue Whale just beats five to six times per minute transporting huge quantities of blood throughout its body.

It also has the largest tongue of any animal weighing in at just under 3,000 kilogrammes (6,000 lbs). It’s cavernous mouth can hold a total of over 90,000 kilogrammes of water (198,000 lbs) or put another way, over 100 people of average size could fit inside with room to spare. With a capacity of 5,000 litres, the Blue Whales lungs are once more the biggest to be found in any animal. Blue Whale Mother And Calf Photo By Andreas Tille

Lone Sprinters

Blue Whales can zip through the water at speeds reaching 50 kilometres per hour (31 miles per hour) over short distances. They can cruise for long periods at speeds of 20 kilometres per hour (12 miles).

Nonetheless, when they are feeding they slow right down to a walking pace of five kilometres per hour (three miles). Unlike Fin Whales, which are social mammals, Blue whales either are solitary or live in pairs. This is atypical of most of the baleen whales who prefer to form large groups.

Booming Vocals

The voices of Blue Whales are the most powerful of any animal. With sounds ranging from between 150 and 188 decibels at a distance of one metre, they can project their voices for hundreds of kilometres. To give you some idea of just how loud this is, 190 decibels is the sound generated at blastoff by a rocket headed for Outer Space.

As of yet, we still do not know what these whales are communicating. However, scientists are optimistic that within the next five years we will have developed the technology to start to communicate with these mysterious creatures. Optimized-Blue Whale Skeleton Photo By Bronwen Lea

Threats To The Great Blues

The advent of faster boats and better harpoon technology meant that the Blue Whale was commercially hunted in huge numbers towards the end of the 19th century and during most of the 20th century. By the time commercial hunting of the Blue Whale was outlawed in 1966 just under 400,000 animals were estimated to have been killed. Orcas are now the Blue Whales’ only natural predator.

Nevertheless, scientists believe that fatalities caused by Orcas are relatively rare events. Other threats that Blue Whales face are collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing nets.

However, a far more sinister dangers may lurk in the form of poly-chlorinate biphenyl (PCB) which is created in the manufacturing process of plastics.

You can read Yellow Magpie’s The Polar Bear: An Indicator Of A Failing World? for further insight into the effects of PCB.

Vital Statistics

  • Blue whales have been measured to be over 33 metres  (110 feet) in length.
  • They have been estimated to weigh up 190,000 kilogrammes (418,000 lbs)
  • Blue Whales are found throughout the world’s  oceans and seas.
  • Scientists believe that these whales can live to be over 80 years old but they could conceivably live to be a lot older.

Recommended Reading

Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Whales: Kings Of The Cetaceans, Beluga Whale: The White Melon-headed Creature Of The Cold and Gray Whale: The Gigantic Voyagers Of The Oceans for further insight into Whales.

Among Giants: A Life With Whales is the fascinating story of underwater photographer, Charles ‘Flip’ Nicklin. Full of stunning pictures and insightful commentary about the whales this book is stunning.

You can obtain Among Giants: A Life with Whales here from Amazon.

Amazon.co.uk For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Among Giants: A Life with Whales from here.

Amazon.ca For Canada: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.

Amazon.de For Germany: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.

Amazon.fr For France: Among Giants: A Life with Whales.


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