Whales are both majestic and mysterious. There’s a lot about them the average person, like me, doesn’t know. Today's guest, urban-fantasy author and self-proclaimed whale addict, Kendall Grey, has studied them intensively. She'll share 13 facts about these exquisite creatures.
3. They're ... big. Blue whales are the largest animals ever to live on this planet. Yes, bigger than any known dinosaurs. Blues can grow to over 100 feet in length. "Mid-sized" whales like humpbacks are about the size of a school bus (around 45 feet), and their babies are the size of a pick-up truck (12 to14 feet).
6. Whales communicate. Toothed whales like dolphins, orcas, and sperm whales use echo-location to help them navigate and find prey. They also employ "clicks" to coordinate activities. Humpback males sing complex "songs" that repeat a pattern of sounds. All males in a single area sing the same song, and it evolves over the season. In other words, they improvise and "build" language, much as we do.
7. They're endangered. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission put an end to commercial whaling. Many populations had been hunted to the brink of extinction. While the ban helped, many whales still struggle. The North Atlantic right whale remains critically endangered. Their total population is estimated at just 400.
8. Man is a major predator. Despite the ban on commercial whaling, Japan, Iceland, Norway and a few aboriginal groups still hunt whales for food. Aside from humans, the only other predatory threats to most whales are sharks and orca whales.
9. Human-based activities threaten whales. Fishing gear entanglements, strikes by ships, pollution, ocean-noise (it confuses toothed-whales' sonar, leading to navigation problems that sometimes cause them to accidentally beach), and global-warming (sunburns,and depleted food sources) are contributors to whale deaths.
10. Whales are fast. Orcas can kick up to speeds of 30 miles per hour for short bursts. That's high speed in water. Fin whales, or finbacks, which grow up to 75 feet long, can go 25 miles an hour or more.
11. Whales can be identified. Researchers photograph humpbacks' unique fluke patterns and keep track of sightings in massive databases (the North Atlantic humpback database contains about 6,000 individual animals). Orcas are identified by their "saddle patches" (patterns behind those big dorsal fins). Right whales are differentiated by the callous-like patterns on their heads.
12. Many whales migrate. Baleen whales tend to move toward the poles in summer (for food-supply reasons) and toward the equator in winter where warmer water is conducive to breeding and birthing. While making their 3,000-plus mile migration, humpbacks go months without eating.
13. Whales may be some of the longest-lived animals on the planet. Scientists once discovered a bowhead whale with a 100-plus year-old harpoon embedded under its blubber. They believe the animal was more than 200 years old. Hundred year-old fin whales also have been found.