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All Creatures,

Episode 26: The Blue Whale, Yes, They’re That Big

April 24, 2018

The Blue whale is just an impressive and incredible oceanic mammal. This week we highlight this, the largest animal ever to inhabit the Earth. Sadly, Blue whales were nearly hunted to extinction and are only now are populations improving. Further, ocean health is rapidly deteriorating due to many negative human influences and this week we highlight steps everyone can take to help support Blue whales and other wildlife that live in the seas.

Blue Whale Overview

The scientific name for the Blue whale is Balaenoptera musculus. They belong to the family Balaenopteridae, which also called the “Rorquals.” Other members of this family include the Fin whales, Minkes, Sei whale, Brydes whale, amongst others.

Blue whales range all over the world. There are four recognized populations:

  • Antarctic “True” Blue whale
  • Pygmy Blue whale
  • North Atlantic Blue whale
  • North Pacific Blue whale

While called “Pygmy” Blue whales, this subspecies is anything but small and measure as long as 80 feet (24 m). Each subpopulation generally resides in their areas of the world and do not migrate worldwide.  There are only a few areas on the planet that have not witnessed Blue whales. These include the Mediterranean, smaller inlets and gulfs. Interestingly, the Northern Hemisphere populations of Blue whales do not inhabit the Bering Sea or venture into the Artic.

Blue whales historically were not hunted through the centuries. Due to their incredible size and speed, these animals were too difficult for sailing ships. Once ships became more modern, specifically beginning in the 20th century, Blue whales became a prime target for whalers. It has been suggested factory whaling knocked some populations of Blue whales down to just 1% of their early 20th century populations. It is miraculous any of these animals are still here with us.

Current populations estimated are:

  • Antarctic “True” Blue whale- 3,000 animals
  • Pygmy Blue whale- 1,500 animals
  • North Atlantic Blue whale- 2,000 animals
  • North Pacific Blue whale- 5,000 animals

These are rough estimated due to the massive size of our oceans and the small populations of Blue whales. However, it is clear that whaling in the 20th Century severely impacted the health of the Blue whale populations. With a generational interval of 31 years, it will take centuries for these animals to recover. Currently populations have all Blue whales at as low as 3% of their 1911 populations.

Just How Big are Blue Whales

The Blue whale reaches lengths of over 100 feet (32 meters) and can weight over 220 tons or 440,000 lbs (200,000 kg). These animals are massive.

No animal ever found is as big as the modern Blue whale. The largest dinosaur is thought to have been Argentinosauraus. While these dinosaurs measured slightly longer at 122 feet (37 meters), they weighed much less at 100 tons, or half that of a Blue whale.

Blue Whale Facts

  • Oldest Blue whale is estimated to have lived to be 110 years old
  • Whales are aged by the length of their ear wax
  • Average life span of many Blue whales is 80 to 90 years
  • Males are called bulls; females are called cows; babies are called calves; group is called a pod
  • Blue whales almost exclusively feed on krill; which are about the size of a paperclip
  • An adult Blue whale can eat up to 4 tons of krill per day
  • The baleen on a Blue whale can be as long as 40 inches long, with only a ¼ gap in between each
  • The tongue of a blue whale can weigh as much as an elephant
  • Blue whales can reach speeds of 50 kph (31 mph)

Blue Whale Conservation

This week we focus on two important aspects of ocean conservation. Reducing the use of plastics and our individual impacts on global warming.

One strategy to reduce plastic waste is to refuse to use single-use straws. We suggest you can carry your own reusable straw or just refuse them outright. You can visit The Last Plastic Straw to learn more.

Please visit the Plastic Pollution Coalition website to learn more about what you can do to reduce your use of plastics and what you can do to help our oceans.

Climate change is fact. It is happening. Here is an excellent summary by NASA on climate change.

We all produce carbon in our daily lives that is contributing to climate change. It is part of being alive and each of us have to accept that yes, we produce carbon. Yet, we can take steps to reduce our individual carbon footprint. First, before we can do that, we should ask ourselves just how much carbon you produce each year. Education is the first step so please take the time to calculate your carbon footprint and here are some online tools:

Once you have the knowledge of just how much you contribute, you can then take steps in reducing your carbon imprint. We all need to come together to tackle these issues, and learning is the first step. Throughout the coming months and years we will continue to help strategize on how we all can take steps to helping to conserve our environment.

Blue Whale Organizations to Support

Blue Whale Study

American Cetacean Society

Video/Audio Links

Blue Whale Feeding

Blue Whale Documentary

Blue Whale Song

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