Whales are incredible creatures. Along with dolphins and porpoises, they're one of the few groups of marine mammals. Although their bodies take the form of a fish, like mammals, they feed their offspring milk, breathe air into their lungs, are warm-blooded, and have (a little bit of) hair.
Being found in every one of earth's oceans, whales travel alone or in groups known as pods each year. Most are quite active; diving deep or slapping the water with their fins. They can perform incredible jumps with most of their bodies leaving the water as they turn and land on their backs. Such a sight will definitely leave any observer in awe.
Below are 15 fun facts about whales, proving that these creatures are a wonder of nature.
- Whales can hold their breath for at least 20 minutes.
- The ocean is part whale pee.
- The blue whale is the largest known creature to ever inhabit the planet.
- Whale "vomit" is used in perfumes.
- Accumulated ear wax can tell a whale's age.
- The story of Moby-Dick is real.
- There are two types of whales.
- A whale's blowhole does not shoot out seawater.
- Orca's slaughter great white sharks for their liver.
- Whales don't sleep.
- The texture of whale milk is like that of a toothpaste.
- Bowhead whales are the longest-living mammals.
- Whales migrate to feed and mate.
- Cuvier's beaked whales are astounding deep divers.
- Humpback whales sing complex songs.
Whales can hold their breath for at least 20 minutes.
On average, whales can remain submerged for 20 minutes. Sperm whales have the most efficient respiratory system, allowing them to spend up to 90 minutes underwater. A Cuvier's beaked whale holds the record of longest stay underwater by a mammal. The noted record is 138 minutes.
Whales are able to hold their breath for significantly longer periods compared to most mammals due to high levels of hemoglobin and myoglobin in their bodies. These proteins store oxygen in their blood and muscles. With the ability to reduce their heart rate and temporarily shut down various organs, they tend to use oxygen slower and with greater efficiency.
The ocean is part whale pee.
Like all other mammals, whales need to get rid of the waste water they produce. About 166 gallons of urine is excreted by a sei whale in one day. A fin whale's daily production of urine amounts to 257 gallons.
The blue whale is the largest known creature to ever inhabit the planet.
Blue whales can grow to a length comparable to that of a Boeing 737. A female found in the Antarctic Ocean was 100ft long and weighed 144 tonnes, making it the biggest recorded blue whale ever.
Being an enormous animal, a blue whale's heart is about the size of a small sedan. A human child would be able to crawl through its aorta. Its tongue tends to be heavier than an elephant. When blue whales are born, they're usually 25ft long and weigh up to 7 tonnes.
Although the blue whale is the biggest, it doesn't mean that it has the largest body parts or creates the loudest sound. Here are some of the species that beat it.
Predominantly dwelling in the Arctic, a bowhead's blubber that can be as thick as 28 inches insulates it from the frigid waters.
With a head big enough to accommodate a car inside it, a sperm whale's brain can weigh up to 20 pounds.
southern right whale
This species boasts of a 12-foot penis and a one-tonne pair of testicles that can produce a gallon of sperm.
The male narwhal possesses two teeth. With the left one growing to more than 6 feet and piercing the whale's lip, it looks more like a tusk than a tooth.
At 230 decibels, the sound a sperm whale makes is more than enough to rupture a human's eardrums.
Whale "vomit" is used in perfumes.
Ambergris is a whale excrement released from the abdomen and is believed to aid in a whale's digestion. Discharged hundreds of miles from the coast, it starts soft and putrid. Years of exposure to salt water and the sun turns it into something similar to a rock with a waxy feel and a sweet smell.
A 7-pound piece of ambergris can be worth more than $50,000. It's highly valued not only because it's rare but also because it's hard to find any substitute for it as a base for perfume.
Accumulated ear wax can tell a whale's age.
During the summer months, whales produce light-colored earwax. When they migrate to warmer regions before winter comes, the earwax formed is dark-colored. The earwax accumulates and hardens, forming an earplug. The number of alternating light and dark layers of the earplug can be used to estimate how old a whale is.
The story of Moby-Dick is real.
While Moby-Dick didn't exactly exist, the story is inspired by a real event. In 1820, the whaler Essex was attacked by a massive sperm whale. The ship sank, and the crew that survived spent at least 90 days at sea before they were rescued.
There are two types of whales.
Whales are classified into baleen and toothed (self-explanatory). The baleen plate is a skin derivative that hangs from the upper jaw and is used to filter food from seawater. Aside from the presence or absence of this feeding system, the two types of whales differ in many other ways.
|Toothed Whales||versus||Baleen Whales|
Number of known species
Females typically smaller than males
Males typically smaller than females
Varies from small to large
Use of echolocation doubtful
A whale's blowhole does not shoot out seawater.
Whales breathe air into their lungs through the blowhole. Located at the back or on top of the head, this hole is covered by flaps that keep water out whenever they go under the water.
While many believe that the plume of mist they release when they breathe is seawater, it's actually a mix of bacteria and hot air. Once expelled to the colder environment, the hot air condenses to water droplets.
Orcas slaughter great white sharks for their liver.
With their terrifying reputation, it's hard to imagine great white sharks being prey to a whale. But orcas, also known as killer whales, have been feeding on these apex predators for a long time. They specifically target the shark's liver probably due to that fact that this organ stores extremely high energy density.
An orca is able to overpower a shark by flipping it over. With its belly up, a great white shark becomes naturally paralyzed. A shark needs to move to breathe and so the orca wins without exerting much effort.
Don't be fooled, though. A killer whale is not a whale. It's a dolphin.
Whales don't sleep.
Or rather, they don't sleep in the way other mammals do, or they'll drown. Their bodies are built with an involuntary respiratory system, which allows whales shut down only half of their brain during sleep. The other half stays alert to control the blowhole and initiate each breath.
When whales sleep, they either rest quietly in a vertical or horizontal position or swim sluggishly beside another whale. Sperm whales are known to sleep vertically.
The texture of whale milk is like that of a toothpaste.
As mammals, whales produce milk to feed their young. The mother gives its baby milk either by allowing it to suckle from the nipple or squirting to its mouth. The 35% - 50% fat concentration in the milk makes it thick like a toothpaste. This consistency permits it to travel through water without breaking up.
Bowhead whales are the longest-living mammals.
With an average life expectancy of 200 years, bowheads are the oldest mammals that are alive on earth. The oldest recorded bowhead lived for about 211 years.
Whales in the wild have long life span and in general, the larger species are likely to live longer than the smaller ones. However, the life of a whale can be drastically shortened when they're in captivity.
Whales migrate to feed and mate.
A whale's food source is abundant in regions where the water is colder, so during the summer months, whales migrate to these places. In late autumn when the water becomes too cold and the food gets scarce, they journey to warmer areas to mate and breed.
Humpback whales used to hold the title of longest-migrating mammals. But in 2015, a female gray whale was reported to have travelled around 14,000 miles for a return trip from Russia to Mexico, breaking the record.
Cuvier's beaked whales are astounding deep divers.
Not only does this species hold the record of longest stay underwater, it's also known to dive down to almost 10,000 feet deep, the deepest dive any mammal has ever done. These creatures dive deep for one sole reason: to get food, most likely deep-sea squid.
Humpback whales sing complex songs.
Humpback whales emit a series of beautiful and complex songs for several minutes and they're able to repeat the same series of sounds with great precision. Each individual humpback sticks to its own type of song.