Whales — the largest creatures to ever grace the Earth. Blubbery, bristle-mouthed, and breathtakingly big, whales have inspired generations to write about, research, and chase after them.
With a whopping 84 different species of whales out there, these majestic mammals can be found in all of the world’s oceans and have undertaken some of the longest migrations known to man.
In honor of World Whale Day, here are some interesting facts about these intelligent, social and unfortunately, endangered giants.
1. Gray whales travel a round-trip of between 10,000-12,400 miles every year between the warm waters of Mexico and their feeding grounds in the cold Arctic seas. In its average lifetime of 40 years, the whale covers the distance of going to the moon and back.
2. Whole pods of sperm whales can be found sleeping with their bodies completely vertical to the ocean floor and their heads bobbing at the surface. This bizarre nap lasts up to 12 minutes and only happens between 6 p.m. and midnight.
3. The horn of the male narwhal is actually an oversized canine tooth with 10 million nerve-endings and can grow up to an impressive 10 feet. They are used to “taste” the concentrations of different chemicals in the water and were once sold in Europe as the horns of mythical unicorns.
4. The heart of the Blue whale can be as big as a VW Beetle and beats loud enough to be detected from two miles away. Its mouth is big enough to fit 100 people, a basketball could float through its arteries and it can span over 100 feet. The world’s largest animal in history, the Blue whale is only getting bigger because of global warming.
5. Humpback whales sing eerie, beautiful songs that are comparable to the structure of human music. All males will sing the same mating song but the tune’s pattern and structure will change as more catchy versions emerge across the ocean. Researchers have drawn comparisons of this trend to the rise and fall of pop music.
6. The Bowhead whale can live for over 200 years. This long lifespan can be accredited to a very low body temperature. In 2007, a 50-ton bowhead was caught off the coast of Alaska with a 115 to 130-year-old weapon embedded in its neck.
7. Whales swallow their entire body weight in water when they feed. They engulf swarms of plankton or fish by rushing headlong at them and later, filter their food using ‘baleen’ hairs in their throats.
8. Whales support an array of life solely on the skin of their backs. Several creatures, including barnacles and sea lice, attach themselves to whales, feeding small schools of fish. It’s like a mini ecosystem.
9. Whales often mistake marine debris as a potential food source. A 43-foot-long fishing net, a 70 cm piece of plastic from a car, and more recently, 30 bags of plastic from all over the world have been found crammed in their stomachs. The Marine Pollution Bulletin found that the ingestion of debris has been documented in 56 percent of the species, with rates of ingestion as high as 31 percent in some populations. In turn, a shocking 22 percent of them are at an increased risk of death.