Living in the ocean whales are large, magnificent, intelligent, aquatic
mammals. They breathe air through blowhole(s) into lungs (unlike
fish who breathe using gills). Whales have sleek, streamlined
bodies that move easily through the water. They are the only
mammals, other than manatees (seacows), that live their entire
lives in the water, and the only mammals that have adapted to
life in the open oceans.
Like all mammals whales breathe air into lungs, whales have
hair (although they have a lot less than land mammals, and have
almost none as adults), are warm-blooded (they maintain a high
body temperature), have mammary glands with which they nourish
their young and whales have a four-chambered heart.Size The biggest whale is the blue whale, which
grows to be about 94 feet (29 m) long - the height of a 9-story
building. These enormous animals eat about 4 tons of tiny krill
each day, obtained by filter feeding through baleen. Adult blue
whales have no predators except man.
The smallest whale is the dwarf sperm whale which as an adult
is only 8.5 feet (2.6 m) long. The blue whale is the largest
animal that has ever existed on Earth. It is larger than any
of the dinosaurs were. They are also the loudest animal on Earth. Two Types of Cetaceans Cetaceans include the whales, dolphins
and porpoises. There are over 75 species of Cetaceans. Whales
belong to the order Cetacea (from the Greek word "ketos" which
means whale), which is divided into the following suborders:
Toothed whales (Odontoceti) - predators that
use their peg-like teeth to catch fish, squid, and marine mammals,
swallowing them whole. They have one blowhole (nostril) and
use echolocation to hunt. There are about 66 species of toothed
whales - killer whales or orcas , beluga whales , narwhals ,
sperm whales , the beaked whales, dolphins , and porpoises.
Baleen whales (Mysticeti) - predators that
sieve tiny crustaceans, small fish, and other tiny organisms
from the water with baleen, which are used to filter tiny organisms,
like krill and small fish from the water. They use their tongue
to dislodge the food from the baleen and swallow it. Baleen
is a comb-like structure that filters the baleen whales' food
from the water. Baleen is made of keratin, the same protein
that our hair and nails are made of. Baleen whales are larger
than the toothed whales and have 2 blowholes (nostrils). There
are 10 species of baleen whales - blue whales ,humpback whales
, gray whales , bowhead whales , minke whales, and right whales.
These large whales are filter feeders and are among the largest
animals on earth. Swimming and other water
activities Whales have a streamlined shape and almost
no hair as adults (it would cause drag while swimming). Killer
whales and Shortfin Pilot whales are the fastest, swimming up
to 30 miles per hour (48 kph).
Whales swim by moving their muscular tail (flukes) up and down.
Fish swim by moving their tails left and right.
Breaching: Many whales are very acrobatic,
even breaching (jumping) high out of the water and then slapping
the water as they come back down. Sometimes they twirl around
while breaching. Breaching may be purely for play or may be
used to loosen skin parasites or have some social meaning.
Spyhopping: This is another cetacean activity
in which the whale pokes its head out of the water and turns
around, perhaps to take a look around.
Lobtailing: Some whales stick their tail out
of the water into the air, swing it around, and then slap it
on the water's surface; this is called lobtailing. It makes
a very loud sound. The meaning or purpose of lobtailing is unknown,
but may be done as a warning to the rest of the pod of danger.
Logging: Logging is when a whale lies still
at the surface of the water, resting, with its tail hanging
down. While floating motionless, part of the head, the dorsal
fin or parts of the back are exposed at the surface. MigrationMany ceteaceans, especially baleen whales,
migrate over very long distances each year. They travel, sometimes
in groups (pods), from cold-water feeding grounds to warm-water
Gray whales make the longest seasonal migration of any of the
whales. They travel about 12,500 miles each year.
Cetaceans have very strong social ties.
The strongest social ties are between mother and calf. A social
group of whales is called a pod. Baleen whales travel alone
or in small pods. The toothed whales travel in large, sometimes
stable pods. The toothed whales
frequently hunt their prey in groups, migrate together, and
share care of their young. ReproductionCetaceans give birth to live young which
are nourished with milk from their mothers - they don't lay
eggs. Cetaceans breed seasonally, usually in warm tropical waters,
and females usually have one calf every 1-3 years. The gestation
times range from 9-18 months. Whale calves can swim at or soon
after birth. Mother whales care for their young for an extended
period of time, usually at least a year, feeding them milk and
Young cetaceans are frequently mottled in color, camouflaging
them from predators. Newborns have a sparse covering of hair
which they lose as adults.Whale SongsComplex whales songs can be heard for miles
under the water. The humpback's song can last for 30 minutes.
Baleen whales sing low-frequency songs; toothed whales emit
whistles and clicks that they use for echolocation The songs
are thought to be used in attracting mates, to keep track of
offspring, and for the toothed whales, to locate prey.Endangered WhalesThere are many species of whales that are
in danger of going extinct. Most baleen whales (the huge whales
targeted by commercial whalers) are listed as endangered or
protected species. Most other whale species are doing well and
are not endangered.
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