In honour of the fourth and final whale in my series of animal panels I have put together a collection of surprising facts about whales. They are truly amazing creatures. Did you know....
- Only one half of the whale’s brain sleeps at a time. This is because whales are mammals and cannot breathe under water. At all times they need enough brain function to keep breathing by swimming to the surface.
- Sperm whales dive down to the ocean floor and then catch a nap standing up. Their naps last about 12 minutes during which time they rise slowly to the surface in their upright position, head first.
- 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.
- The beluga whale is actually capable of facial expressions. Some times the beluga appears to be smiling or frowning as its lips and the crescent of fat that forms the forehead are both highly mobile
- Some amazing adaptations of the sperm whale include the ability to limit blood 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. These unique physiological adaptations are necessary to withstand the intense cold and crushing pressure of the sperm whale's two mile dives.
- Toothed whales hunt their prey using echolocation. The reliance on sound as the whale's most critical sense explains the small size of their eyes relative to their bodies
- Blue whales are the loudest creature on earth. Like all baleen whales they use sonar communication at very low frequencies. The blue whale's cry measures 188 decibels - louder than a jet which is 140 decibels.
- The enormous weight of the whale is supported by the water rather than large heavy bones which it would require if it were on land. A blue whale would be crushed by its own weight on land given its bone structure
- Whales do not actually drink any seawater - they extract water from their food by metabolizing the fat
- Some whales don't have teeth - they have plates called baleen which filter fish from the water which are then swallowed whole. Baleen is made of keratin like hair and nails. Sometimes baleen whales are referred to as ‘mustached’ whales
- Whales move through the water by moving their tails up and down vertically - this is different from fish who move their tails horizontally to swim
- The heart of the blue whale weighs about 1000 pounds and is about the size of a VW Beetle. A human child would be able to crawl through the aorta to the heart.
- Killer whales and pilot whales are actually classed as dolphins not whales, despite their name
Have a whale of a day!