30+ Interesting Facts About Whales

  1. Whales are fully aquatic marine mammals. They belong to the order cetacean. The other members of this order are dolphins and porpoises.  
  2. Whales are present in all the oceans and seas around the world.
  3. The closest living relatives of whales are hippos. But neither hippos nor any other animals are ancestors of whales. Both these groups got their unique features separately. (Source)
  4. There are two types of whales; baleen whales and toothed whales. Baleen whales have baleen (made of keratin) in their mouth compared to the presence of teeth in toothed whales. Dolphins and porpoises also have teeth.
  5. Apart from baleen and teeth, there are other differences between baleen and toothed whales. Baleen whales are generally larger than toothed whales. Baleen whales have two blowholes compared to a single blowhole in toothed whales at the top of their heads. Toothed whales are social animals, while baleen whales are mostly solitary creatures. Females are larger in baleen whales, while males are usually larger in toothed whales. (Source)
  6. There are 14 extant families of whales, four for baleen and ten for toothed whales. Baleen whale families include gray whales, right whales, pygmy right whales, and rorquals. Toothed whales have 76 species.
  7. Whales initially originated around 50 million years ago. The oldest fossils of whales are roughly 50 million years old. The largest collection of these earliest fossils was discovered in northern Pakistan. (Source)
  8. Like other mammals, whales have lungs, and they need to take breathe out of water. But compared to terrestrial mammals, these marine mammals can store large amounts of oxygen which allows them to stay underwater for long durations. They use blowholes for breathing.
  9. Cuvier’s beaked whales have the deepest and longest dives among whales and other mammals. They can remain underwater for more than 3 hours. They only spend around two minutes at the water surface before their next dive. (Source
    Image of a Cuvier's beaked whale
    A Cuvier's beaked whale can remain underwater for 3 hours

  10. The communication process between toothed and baleen whales is also different. Toothed whales use echolocation through a structure in their foreheads known as “melon” to find food and navigate underwater. Baleen whales produce several sounds, especially whale songs, for communication, even without vocal cords. (Source)  
  11. Tails in whales act like fingerprints in humans. The color, shape, and other features of every whale are unique. (Source)  
  12. 6 of the 13 largest species of whales are endangered or vulnerable. More than 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed annually as a result of fisheries bycatch, shipping, and habitat loss, due to climate change.
  13. Belugas are the only true whales kept in captivity. Other whales are either too big or unsuitable in captivity for different reasons.
  14. Like other marine mammals, whales also contain a thick layer of fat in their bodies, known as blubber. It keeps them warm and stores energy. Bowhead whales have the thickest layer of blubber (up to 20 inches) among all whales.
  15. As compared to humans, whales can store 10 to 20 times more myoglobin in their cells. It helps them to stay active for up to two hours when they are holding their breath while diving deep in the ocean. (Source)  
  16. Whales have poor vision as compared to other mammals. They see details ten times worse than humans. They are also colorblind due to just a single or no cones (other mammals have two or three cones) in their retina. (Source)
  17. The blue whale in the rorqual family is the largest whale and also the largest animal on earth. The dwarf sperm whale belongs to the small sperm whale family and is the smallest among whales.
  18. The sense of smell is either limited (baleen whales) or absent (toothed whales) in whales.
  19. The sperm whale has the largest brain in the animal kingdom.
  20. Whale milk is rich in fats. The fat percentage in the milk of various species of whales is between 35 and 50%.
  21. The North Pacific grey whale migration is the longest by any marine animal. This whale covers more than 12,400 miles during its annual migration.
  22. Whales may travel long distances without feeding. Female southern right whales annually migrate from their Antarctic feeding grounds to Australia’s southern coast for breeding. These whales don’t eat anything for four months during this migration and rely on their fat stores. (Source)
  23. Whales either sleep while swimming slowly along with other whales or rest quietly in the water. They sleep horizontally or in a vertical position.
  24. Whales bring nitrogen and other nutrients from the ocean depth through their food. These large mammals then spread this nitrogen to the ocean surface via their feces. This process, known as the whale pump, keeps the ocean environment healthy. (Source)  
  25. The death and sinking of whales in the ocean, known as whale fall, is also very productive for marine animals. Even a single whale fall can support numerous marine communities for decades. (Source
    A whale fall community
    A whale fall can assist marine communities for decades

  26. Ambergris is used in the perfume industry. It is known as the “treasure of the sea” and “floating gold” due to its high cost. Its source is the vomit or excrement of a sperm whale, giving its nickname “whale vomit.” The ambergris has been in human use for at least 1,000 years. (Source)
  27. Like humans, whales also produce earwax. The whale earwax in sperm whales and a few species of baleen whales form “earplugs” that assist in hearing. Layers of earwax can also tell the age of a whale. (Source)
  28. Sperm whales sleep while floating vertically. They spend just 7% of their day sleeping, the lowest in the world. Giraffes spend 8% of their day sleeping. (Source)
  29. Blue whales and sperm whales are the two loudest animals on earth. Sperm whales are louder based on decibels (230 dB as compared to the 188 dB call of a blue whale), but the sound of a blue whale is audible up to 1,000 miles (1,600 km). The sound of a jet engine is 140 dB. (Source)
  30. Many species of large whales jump out of the water and throw themselves on the water surface, known as whale breaching. It is known as one of the most powerful blasts in nature. This behavior is visible in humpback, gray, and right whales. (Source)
  31. All types of whales are carnivores. Baleen whales eat small animals like krill and small fish. Toothed whales eat larger prey like octopuses, squid, and large fish.
  32. Whales have several stomachs in their bodies. The Baird’s beak whale has 13 stomachs or stomach components. (Source)  
  33. Killer whales and a few large sharks, like the great white shark, are the only predators of small whales. Orcas may also chase and attack big whales, including humpback and blue whales. 

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