While growing up many of us have seen the movie Pinocchio. The bad depiction of a whale eating Pinocchio and Geppeto has given a lot of us a bad vibe towards whales. Well that is all about to change. After reading this paper, one will see how majestic and graceful and gentle these magnificent creatures really are.
Whales are the worlds largest living creatures. They are mammals which mean they breathe air through their lungs which they get through their blowholes not their mouths; they give birth to their young live, have warm blood and can grow hair. They are the only mammals that live their entire lives in the water. They belong to the order of Cetacean. There are hundreds of different species of Whales, each much different than the other, but all whales contain specific traits that make them some of the most fascinating creatures on the planet.
What a whale eats depends entirely on what kind of whale it is. There are two types, Baleen Whales, which use millions of broom-like bristles called Baleen to catch millions of tiny organisms such as shrimp, krill and plankton. The other type of whale is called Odontoceti. These are the toothed whales that eat squid and other small animals that live in the ocean. They are predators and use their teeth to chew the food and kill their prey. Most whales though, regardless of what or how they eat are still very gentle creatures.
Whales are the biggest creatures on the planet. The biggest whale is the Blue Whale. Blue whales can grow to be up to 110 feet long and weigh up to 174 tons. This would make the blue whale bigger than any of the dinosaurs. The smallest whale is called the Dwarf Sperm Whale and they are 8 feet long and weigh up to 600 pounds. The giant size of these creatures means that they also have giant hearts to pump blood through their bodies. A whales heart will beat from 10 30 times per minute and when the whale dives its heart rate decreases to save oxygen. (“Hunting the Heartbeat of a Whale” National Geographic, Volume 110:49-64 1956)
Many people think that Whales look just like giant fish, but this is not true. Whales are completely different from fish. For one, theyre mammals. They have a much greater size and they also swim differently from fish. When a fish swims it moves its tail left and right repeatedly, but when a whale is swimming it moves its tail or as its called their Fluke up and down. The fastest a whale swims is 30 mph and this feat is done daily by the killer or Orca Whale.
You may have seen on Television or if youre lucky in person, whales jumping out of the surface of the water and splashing about. This activity is called Breaching. It is a playful activity that whales partake in but it also serves other purposes. Breaching can in fact get rid of parasites the whale may have on its skin. Many scientists believe that breaching may even serve a social purpose.
Whales are very social creatures. They usually travel in small groups of 4 to 5 whales which are called Pods. These pods protect and feed young together as well as migrate from one place to another. Usually they migrate from cold areas where they can find great amounts of food to warmer areas where they can breed and raise their new born calves. Whales sleep in an unusual way. They sleep for half an hour at a time and then come back up for air. After sleeping, they swim back to the surface. They keep their eyes open while they sleep. They don’t get to sleep for very long at any one time. The Pods also help protect one another while some sleep.
Whales not unlike dolphins use sonar to communicate as well as catch food. Baleen whale sounds may be the loudest produced by any animal and may travel for tens or hundreds of kilometers underwater. These sounds may be for long-range contact, assembly calls, advertisement for mates, greeting, location, threat, or individual identification.(Seaworld.org) Sonar isnt just the only way that whales communicate, they also use sounds that their bodies produce to let other whales what is going on. Some sounds produced by the body may be involved with communication. Noises such as forceful spouts may signal aggravation. Slapping pectoral flippers or flukes may indicate arousal, excitement, or aggression.(Seaworld.org)
Whales reproduce just like most other mammals. They birth their children live, so they dont lay eggs like fish. Once a calf is born the mother nourishes it with milk and protects it from harm for up to a year, or at least till the young is old enough to fend for itself. The gestation or time the calf is in the mother whale can be as short as nine months but could also last up to a whopping eighteen months. Once born, Whale calves can almost immediately swim.
Its a shame that these great creatures are endangered. In the past whale hunters have killed hundreds of baleen whales and used their blubber and other parts. A lot is being done today to save the whales. The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 made it illegal to hunt marine mammals in the U.S. Other organizations are also trying to put a stop to the killing and preservation of whales, these include; Save the Whales, The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) and Greenpeace.
Now that we know a little more about whales in general, lets take a closer look at different species of whales. The biggest whale in the world is the Blue Whale, and as stated earlier the blue whale can be up to 110 feet long and weigh up to 174 tons. They receive their name because of their bluish grayish color. On land an animal the size of a blue whale would be crushed by its own weight without the support of large heavy bones. Because its body is supported by water, as a sea animal, the need for heavy bones to support its weight disappeared.(ACS Online.org) Blue whales were hunted greatly after the invention of the exploding harpoon, but with the institution of many anti whaling acts it is predicted that there are around 12,000 blue whales around the world today.
Humpback Whales are those that you may have seen jumping out of the water on T.V. or even in person. They received their name because of the way its dorsal fin looks and the shape it makes when diving into the water. It looks like it has a big hump on its back. They are grayish-black in color except for their underbelly. The average size of a Humpback is around 50-60 feet long. They can weigh up to 50 tons. Humpbacks are best known for their haunting vocalizations or “singing.” They have a rich repertoire that covers many octaves and includes frequencies beyond the threshold of human hearing. These songs, apparently sung by males, last as long as 20 minutes, after which they are repeated, often with slight changes.(MMC.org) Yet, as great as these whales sound they are the most endangered of all the whales. Thankfully their numbers are beginning to improve and more and more Humpbacks are being seen in the wild.
The Killer Whale or Orca as its scientifically named is probably the most recognized of all the whales in the world. We all know Shamu and have seen Free Willy. Orcas are different from the previous whales described because they have teeth, not Baleen. They are black and white in color. Killer Whales are 18-20 feet long and can weigh up to 12,000 pounds. Because of their fierce reputation, killer whales are sometimes called ballena asesina by the Spanish. They were referred to as “whale killers” by sailors who witnessed their attacks on larger cetaceans, and over time this name was changed to “killer whales.” They are called this not because they harm humans but because they kill other whales.(Seaworld.org) Killer Whales can swim at speeds up to 35 mph. Their diets consist of fish, squid, sea lions, otters, turtles and even polar bears and moose. A killer whale when hungry will eat probably anything it can get. A phenomenon with killer whales is the fact that once a killer whale is held in captivity its dorsal fin flops over. If the whale was in the wild the dorsal fin would be pointed but it is still unknown why this happens.
Moby Dick written by Herman Melville is probably the most famous story about a sperm whale. Sperm whales are like killer whales in the fact that they also have teeth. “Nor was it his unwonted magnitude, nor his remarkable hue, nor yet his deformed lower jaw, that so much invested the whale with natural terror, as that unexampled, intelligent malignity which, according to specific accounts, he had over and over again evinced in his assaults.”(Melville) Sperm Whales average a length of 62 feet. They are grey in color but this color gets darker as the whale gets older. Sperm Whales eat squid and in order to find them they must dive great depths, sometimes up to 3000 feet. In order to do this the sperm whale holds its breath for up to 90 minutes at a time. They can consume up to one ton of food a day. Sperm Whales get their name from the Spermaceti that is in their heads. Spermaceti is a clear liquid that gets hard when it is cold has been a great prize for Whalers for ages. Another prize the sperm whale hides is the Ambergris that is found in the stomach of the whale. It is one of the key ingredients of many types of perfume. Today there are estimated to be around half a million sperm whales in the wild.
The final whale is different from all the rest of the whales described. It is a mythical creature that is arguable though to have the horn of a unicorn. This whale is called the Narwhal. The Narwhal has a long tooth that comes from the top of its mouth that can extend to be almost 9 feet long. They live in the artic waters and this is fine for them because they have a very thick layer of fat to keep them warm in the cold waters. They grow to be about 16 feet long and 2 tons. Narwhals are very scarce. They are hunted even still today because people believe that their tooth or horn contains powers.
Whales are some of the most understood creatures on the planet. Some people believe them to be dangerous with others believe them to be a way to make a living. Even though killing of whales has been outlawed people are still trying to find ways to exploit these laws. But why kill a whale? What have they ever done to us? I say we leave these majestic creatures alone because after all they are the gentle giants of the ocean.
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