Blue Whale Bargain Notecard

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Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

The blue whale is the largest creature on earth, measuring up to 100 feet in length and weighing as much as 150 tons. Like all baleen whales, the blue whale in a filter feeder. Plates of baleen or "whalebone", outgrowths from the roof of the mouth, form a meshwork which functions as a strainer. The whale's throat is lined with a series of grooves which allow the animal to puff up accordian-like and engulf large amounts of krill - tiny shrimp-like crustaceans. The giant tongue is pressed against the baleen and water is spritzed out while the remaining krill are swallowed.

Each spring blue whales head for rich polar feeding grounds, where cold and warm waters mix, resulting in upwellings that circulate nutrients and support large plankton populations. As the polar summer ends, the whales head for warmer waters. They live off food stored in the blubber, a thick layer of fat which lies just outside of the muscle and helps to insulate the warm-blooded creatures.

After a 12-month gestation, females give birth to a single calf every two to three years. The huge newborn may be 25 feet long and weight up to 8 tons! The mother nurses her calf with up to 130 gallons of mild daily, and the calf gains 200 pounds each day for the first seven months. Mothers are very caring and protective of their young.

Early whalers were largely unsuccessful in capturing the swift blue whales. The deadly harpoon gun and explosive chargers of modern whalers, however, made the blue an easy target. When the great whale herds of the artic were discovered, blue whale populations were decimated. The awesome creatures were turned into products such as animal feed, margarine, car wax, fertilizers, and shoe polish.

Blue whales used to be found worldwide, but overhunting has pushed them to the edge of extinction. Despite international protection since 1965, their population has shown little recovery.

artwork by Daniel Burgevin © 2000 

text by Steve Sierigk

Tags: animals,