EXTREMES OF THE WHALE ORDER
By Amelia Meyer
Whales are fascinating in so many ways, and continue to intrigue scientists and delight onlookers. They are most commonly known for their size, which can reach mammoth proportions. Within the whale order, there are drastic extremes, illustrating just how diverse and enthralling these marine mammals are. To examine these extremes is to get a glimpse of the wonders of creation and of these unique and beautiful giants.
The fastest whales are the Orca (or Killer Whale) and the Pilot Whale. When necessary, these species will swim at speeds of more than 48 kilometres (or 30 miles) per hour. This is usually done in order to catch prey. The fastest of the great whales is the Sei, which reaches 23 miles (or 37 kilometres) per hour. This is done in short bursts, though, and cannot be sustained.
The Blue Whale is the biggest whale and, in truth, the largest of all living creatures. In fact, it is larger than any known dinosaur that ever existed. They are baleen whales (meaning that they feed on plankton and small crustaceans via sieve-like structures in the mouth), and require plenty of food to sustain their enormity. They reach up to 100 feet (or more than 33.5 metres) in length. Their tongue is said to weigh as much as the average elephant and their heart is roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. A four-year-old child can comfortably crawl through the aortic artery of a Blue Whale.
Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales at more than 50 feet (over 15 metres) and about 43 tons.
The smallest whale species is the Dwarf Sperm Whale. It is only about 2.6 metres (or 8.5 feet) long at full maturity. It will weigh about 250 kilograms (or 550 pounds) at adulthood.
Baleen refers to the mouth structure that sieves the ocean water and captures the plankton for consumption. The Bowhead Whale has the longest baleen, with about 350 pairs of baleen plates in its mouth. The fine structures are about 446 centimetres (or 176 inches) long and 35.5 centimetres (or 14 inches) wide. The bow shape of its head accommodates these bristles.
Most Stable Pod Structure
Killer Whales and Pilot Whales live in very stable pods. They work together in hunting and the care of their young, and they migrate as a unit. They are known for maintaining this structure for their entire lifetime.
Although it is often mistaken for some type of horn, the structure on the front of a Narwhal’s head is actually a tooth. It can measure between two and three metres (or seven to 10 feet) in length, qualifying as the longest tooth in the cetacean family.
At 188 decibels, the Blue Whale is the loudest animal known to man. A human scream does not usually exceed 70 decibels, and a jet engine reaches about 140 decibels. Their whistles can be heard from miles away, and are important means of communication for whales.
The Killer Whale, also known as the Orca, certainly lives up to its name and is the world’s deadliest whale. It is known for its hunting abilities, and this carnivore dines on hundreds of pounds of fish, marine birds, other whales, seals, sea lions and squid every day. They generally hunt alone but often use teamwork too.
The Sperm Whale is the deepest diver of all the whales. It can dive to 10 500 feet (or 3 200 metres) below the surface of the ocean. They go to these great depths in order to hunt for food, as the giant squid lives deep in the black waters of the ocean. This dive can take about 40 minutes to complete, after which time the whale will surface to rest for about 10 minutes.
The Sperm Whale, being one of the largest animals in existence, has the biggest brain. Its brain weighs about nine kilograms (or 20 pounds). This is the approximate weight of an average car tire or a toddler.
The Gray Whale boasts the longest migration as it travels from the Arctic North to the Mexican Baja Peninsula. This is a total of approximately 12 500 miles or more than 20 000 kilometres. During this annual migration, they stick close to the shore.