You are here

Facts about whales

Whales are amazing! Here are some incredible facts about whales and their lives in the oceans.
Humpback whale
Humpback whale

Which is the biggest whale?

The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth; it is larger than any of the dinosaurs. The biggest recorded blue whale was a female in the Antarctic Ocean that was 30.5 m long (more than 3.5 times the length of a double-decker bus and as long as a Boeing 737 plane) with an estimated weight of 144 tonnes (almost the same as 2,000 men). The tongue alone of a blue whale can weigh as much as an elephant and an entire football team could stand on it!

The heart of a blue whale is about the size of a VW Beetle car and weighs up to 450kg. The aorta, a major blood vessel for the heart, is big enough for a human child to crawl through.

How big is the calf of a blue whale?

Blue whales are pregnant for 10-12 months. The newborn calf is about 7.5 m long and weighs about 5.5 – 7.3 tonnes. A baby blue whale drinks about 225 litres (about enough to fill a bath) of its mother’s fat-laden milk (it is 40-50% fat) a day, gaining 3.7 kilograms an hour, until at age 8 months they are 15 m long and 22.5 tonnes! The mother and calf may stay together for a year or longer, until the calf is about 13 m long. Blue whales reach maturity at 10-15 years.

Which whale is the deepest diver?

A Cuvier's beaked whale has been recorded to dive to a depth of 3km for over 2 hours.

Sperm whales are also champion divers. Adults can stay underwater for almost two hours and dive to depths of 2,000 metres or more. They eat squid, which can live very deep in the ocean, so sperm whales have to dive down into the deepest parts of the sea to catch them.

Which whale has the biggest brain?

The sperm whale’s huge head, which is up to a third of its overall body length, houses the heaviest brain in the animal kingdom - up to 9kg. The head also consists of a cavity large enough to park a car inside that contains a yellowish wax called spermaceti that was much sought after by whalers.

Which whale has the thickest blubber and longest baleen?

The bowhead whale, which lives exclusively in the Arctic, has the thickest blubber of all whales. It can reach a whopping 70cm in thickness. These whales also have the longest baleen – the comb-like structures hanging down from their upper jaws used as a sieve to filter food from the sea-water. These baleen plates can reach up to 5 metres in length.

Which whale has the largest testicles?

The southern right whale has the largest testes in the animal kingdom –each pair weighing around a tonne.

Which whale has the longest tooth?

The male narwhal has two teeth. The left one pierces the animal’s lip and grows to an incredible 2-3 metres. In Europe, these tusks were once sold as the horns of the mythical unicorn.

Which is the most endangered whale?

The North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales are among the most endangered of all whales. Only around 400-500 individuals currently exist with fewer than 100 North Pacific right whales remaining. The Western Pacific gray whale may be down to the last 150 individuals but perhaps the most endangered whale lives in the Gulf of Mexico. Here, a genetically distinct population of Bryde's whales has recently been discovered that may have fewer than 50 individuals remaining.

Northernrightwhale__c_Regina_Asmutis-Silvia_WDC

Which whale lives the longest?

In the wild whales live for a long time - generally the larger species living longest. Bowhead whales spend their lives in cold Arctic waters. They may be the world’s oldest mammals and are the longest lived of all whales – possibly over 200 years!

Which whale makes the loudest sound?

Beluga whales are known as the "canaries of the sea" because they make chirping sounds like the little yellow birds.

Sperm whales are the loudest whales, they have been recorded making sounds at 230 decibels. In comparison the call of the blue whale reaches levels up to 188 decibels. But while a sperm whale's sound lasts for only around 100 microseconds (a microsecond is 1 millionth of a second), a blue whale's call can last up to 30 seconds. Sounds over 120-130 decibels are painful to human ears.

Male humpback whales sing the most complex songs and have long, varied, eerie, and beautiful songs that include recognizable sequences of squeaks, grunts, and other sounds. The songs have the largest range of frequencies used by whales, ranging from 20-9,000 hertz. Only male humpback whales have been recorded singing. They sing these complex songs only in warm waters where they breed and give birth. In cold waters, they make rougher sounds, scrapes and groans, perhaps used for locating large masses of krill (the tiny crustaceans that they eat).

Which whale makes the longest migration?

The humpback whales that feed in Antarctic waters and swim north to breed off the coasts of Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica make one of the longest confirmed migration of any mammal.

Gray whales also migrate huge distances and some may even rival the humpback for distance travelled. Some travel a round-trip of between 16,000–20,000 km (10,000–12,400 miles) every year between their winter calving lagoons in the warm waters of Mexico and their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic seas, however a female grey whale has recently been recorded as having made an even longer round-trip of 22,500km (14,000 miles) migrating between the east coast of Russia and the breeding grounds of Mexico. To put this into perspective, the continent of Africa is approximately 8,000 km (5,000 miles) from north to south.

In its lifetime – that’s about 40 years – a gray whale travels a distance that is equivalent to going to the moon and back!

Despite their size, the fin whale, the second largest whale, is known as the "greyhound of the sea" and can reach speeds of up to 20mph (32kph)!

Whale anatomy