Blue whales

BLUE WHALES

Blue whales are the biggest animals in the world. They are extremely rare, so it's not easy to spot them. But you do have some chances!

Credit

Foto: istock/Liz_Leyden

BLUE WHALES

Blue whales are the biggest animals in the world. They are extremely rare, so it's not easy to spot them. But you do have some chances!

Credit

Foto: istock/Liz_Leyden

Review BLUE WHALES

Blue whales are the biggest animals to have ever lived on this planet. Including the dinosaurs!

One of the best things about whales surely is their sheer, inconceivable size, with which they suddenly emerge from the depths. The best whale considering that aspect: The blue whale.

The blue whale is the biggest animal to ever have lived. Really: Biggest. One. Ever. Including the dinosaurs. With up to 190 tons, it weighs more than twice as much as the biggest dinosaurs. I did some calculating about that: 190 tons equal an empty Boeing 757, ten middle class cars, twenty elephants and 100 people – altogether.

An average blue whale reaches a length of 26 meters, the longest even 33 meters. That equals three casually lined up school busses. Just as a comparison: Your standard whale watching zodiac usually has a length of 4 to 8 meters.

The whale’s fluke alone is as big as that zodiac. The good news is that blue whales usually have no interest in zodiacs or humans at all. Instead, they just stay calm and relaxed and keep on swimming with an average heart rate of only 4 to 6 beats per minute.

»The heart of a blue whale has the size and weight of a middle class car. Its tongue weighs as much as a complete elephant.«

Basically, blue whales are interested in one thing only: Krill. All day long, it’s all about krill – but, of course, in a relaxed way. Blue whales don’t hunt. Instead, they just swim through huge swarms of krill and fish with their mouths wide open, using their baleen to filter out any edibles. That way they collect 5 to 8 tons of food every day with modest effort. Record!

More super records: The heart of a blue whale is as big and heavy as a middle class car, a child could swim through its aorta and its tongue – weighing as much as a complete elephant – offers enough room to place half a school class on it. I told you: Blue whales are big.

And blue whales are not just the biggest and heaviest animals in the world, they are also among the loudest: Under water, a blue whale can reach a volume of up to 180 decibel. Motörhead got up to as much as 120 db in the 90ies, and even record holders Manowar with 139 db pale next to the blue whale. The loudest creatures on the planet: sperm whales, with clicks reaching up to 236 decibels.

Some experts think that the blue whales low-frequency sounds are so loud that they could travel the full 20.000 kilometers from pole to pole, if it wasn’t for the numerous obstacles in the way. But even with things being the way they are, blue whales are most likely able to communicate with each other over hundreds and thousands of kilometers – depending on how the ever increasing man-made noise in the oceans would let them.

And that is a very practical thing, as blue whales are loners and as there are unfortunately hardly any left, nowadays. Because of the massive whaling over the last centuries, blue whales are extremely endangered. All over the world, there are just a few thousand of them left. Nonetheless, there are a few places, where chances of meeting them are pretty good.

Credit

Illustration: Tobias Gehrt / studio2112.de
SIZE

Between 24 and 33 meters, females are slightly bigger than males. Weight: Up to 190 tons.

COLOUR

Anthracite, slate grey, blue grey, the colors vary very much. They can be identified by the many white and grey speckles.

SHAPE

Giant, long body with a broad and flat u-shaped head, which can be up to one fourth of the total length of the animal.

BLOW

Very high, small blow. Can be 8 to 12 meters or higher and can be seen from very far away.

FIN

Very far in the back, very small, sometimes pointy, sometimes crescent-shaped, sometimes just a little bump. Smaller and less prominent than the finback.

FLUKE

Very broad fluke, about one fifth of the body’s length. Slightly concave, rather straight rear edge with pointy ends. Very massive tail style when seen from the side.

BEHAVIOR

No interest in boats. Slowly swimming on the surface. Rarely raises the fin going under water.

DIVING

Blue whales dive for approx. 10 – 30 minutes.

NUMBERS

An estimated 8.000 to 12.000 animals worldwide.

Credit

Foto: shutterstock/johan_r

Checklist BLUE WHALES

Blue whales are so big that you will never see blow and fin above the water line at the same time. When diving, only one in five blue whales raises their fluke, some never do.

Blue whales usually travel alone, sometimes in pairs and only rarely in bigger numbers. Usually, they swim on the surface and are pretty indifferent to boats. Their normal speed ranges from 5 to 15 km/h, even slower when feeding. However, they can reach a speed of up to 30 km/h, when fleeing.

Usually, blue whales surface at a rather flat angle, so that you can hear and see the giant blow as soon as the head breaks through the surface. Then the head goes right back underwater again and a big part of the enormous back becomes visible. That pattern of movement for drawing breath is repeated several times, while the fin remains unseen, as it is located a lot further to the rear.

Only when the blue whale is about to dive down for a longer time, indicated by a louder last blow and a significant bending of the back, the fin becomes visible on the surface. The fluke might become visible before longer dives, mostly it stays under water, though, as blue whales dive and surface at a flat angle.

In any case, only one in five blue whales raise their fluke, some never do. Apart from that, blue whales aren’t too active at the water surface, either. They rarely jump, only seldom rise out of the water or splash their flukes or flippers in the water. They just keep on hauling their massive bodies through the sea. Impressive enough.

Credit

Foto: shutterstock/powellspoint

Where and when BLUE WHALES

As blue whales are extremely rare, places where you are sure to spot them are just as rare. There is a good chance to see them at the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec, the Mexican Baja California or at Husavik in Iceland.

Blue whales usually travel back and forth between tropic and polar waters, so in theory you could meet them in any sea all over the world. In summer they hunt for food in cooler waters, during winter they give birth to their calves in warmer waters.

In the western Atlantic, blue whales can be found in the waters from Greenland to Newfoundland. The best chances of seeing them are along the North American East Coast at the Quebec Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is home to a population of 400 animals. In the Eastern Atlantic, blue whales can best be found between the Azores and Canary Islands (in winter and spring) and Iceland (summer and fall). From Europe, the odds are best at Husavik on Iceland, when the whales make their way north in May and June and back south in September. However, there are only a few hundred animals left in the Northern Atlantic.

In the Northern Pacific, between Alaska and California, the number of blue whales ranges around 3.000 animals. There are, however, only a few places where you have a reliable chance of seeing them, Mexico’s Baja California being your safest bet. In the southern hemisphere, whales can be found all the way down to Antarctica. Your best chance of spotting them are in front of Chile, on Sri Lanka and on the Maldives. Populations in the North Indian Sea usually remain true to their location.

As blue whales mostly feed on krill – and krill only tends to rise to the surface in the evening –, they are usually active in the afternoon, in the evening or at night. So you better don’t book the first tour of the day.