10 Things That Are Amazing About Blue Whales
Blue whales are unique because they are the largest animals on earth, live long lives, and have remarkable features. As the largest animal on earth, the blue whale is arguably the most fascinating of the great rorqual or baleen whales. As you read below, you will explore 10 amazing blue whale facts that will challenge the depth of your imagination and truly blow your mind! From their size and diet to their behavior and habitat, we will uncover fascinating information about these incredible creatures and explain why they play a vital role in making Dana Point whale watching during the summer months absolutely amazing!
1. Blue whales are the largest animals on earth.
Dwarfing every single one of our vessels, blue whales are the most impressive marine animals we see out in the ocean because of their incredible size. From their enormous length of nearly 100 feet (or 30 meters) to their impressive heart and lung capacity, these animals will take your breath away when you see them up close. Reaching 200 tons, their heart alone can weigh as much as a car, and their tongue is as heavy as an elephant. Most surprisingly, these gentle giants feed on some of the smallest creatures on earth called krill. Book a private charter with us today and prepare for an ocean adventure safari of your lifetime!
2. Blue Whales have a heart the size of a small car!
This next blue whale fact is heavy! Blue whales have massive hearts weighing nearly 400 pounds! We have all seen what the iconic Volkswagen Beetle looks like. But did you know a blue whale heart is roughly the same size as this small car? That’s right, but it isn’t too surprising, though, because being the largest animal on earth also means it needs to have the largest heart of any animal on earth to pump blood through its colossal body. Their heart is incredibly efficient in pumping blood throughout their massive bodies at a rate of 10-15 times per minute. Though their heart is incredibly large, their esophagus is relatively small, averaging the size of a grapefruit. The size of their esophagus is important because it dictates what they can and cannot eat. Surprisingly to most, one of the more unusual blue whale facts on our list is that the blue whale cannot swallow anything larger than a small beach ball due to their esophagus being so small. So if you are worried about being swallowed by a whale, don’t fret!
3. A Blue whale can eat 4 tons of krill in one day.
To become the largest animal on earth, eating more food in a day than any other animal on earth is a requirement. Krill is the main food supply for the blue whale. While krill may be tiny shrimp-like crustaceans, their weight adds up when they reach populations into the millions. Because the blue whale is so enormous, making small movements as simple as swimming can be extremely exhausting and expels much energy. These filter feeders spend their entire day (and night) searching for food, and, lucky for all of us, they find it right here in Dana Point, CA! One of the most astonishing blue whale facts is they will transform their bodies into a parachute-like form while taking in impressive mouthfuls of water and krill and using their baleen to filter out the water, leaving krill trapped inside. Baleen plates, made of keratin, are similar to the consistency of our fingernails and grow as long as 8 feet long. Their unique gulp-feeding technique allows blue whales to consume approximately 3-4 tons of krill daily.
4. Where do blue whales live?
Blue whales are found in open oceans. Lucky for us living and visiting Orange County, these majestic mammals frequently visit the waters in Dana Point, the Whale Watching Capital of the World®, and America’s first Whale Heritage Site. During the summer months, beginning in June, we see these animals appear in the deeper water just outside our Dana Point Harbor. They will often stay in our temperate water as late as the end of September, before migrating to other areas as they search for krill. Being able to see these animals in Dana Point, is one of our favorite blue whale facts!
5. Blue whales migrate over long distances.
Specific migratory patterns of blue whales change over geographic regions. Long distances divide the blue whale migration from breeding to feeding grounds. Still, they typically prefer to give birth in warmer waters near the equator and feed in areas where upwelling occurs, like the Arctic, where krill is abundant. Dana Point, California, is known for this upwelling phenomenon when coastal winds stir up nutrient-dense colder water from deep ocean trenches below the surface. As the colder water filled with nutrients rises to the surfaces, phytoplankton bloom, oxygenating the water and creating the perfect environment for krill to feast. Now that is a pretty interesting blue whale fact if you ask us! Where there is krill, there are baleen whales, making Dana Point a key location for blue whales to feed.
6. How long do blue whales live?
Like humans, the blue whale has an average extended life capacity of 90 years. Sadly, many of these animals never reach their 90th birthday because of early deaths from manufactured inventions such as commercial container ships and cruise ships. While there isn’t a comprehensive global monitoring network, we know that ship strikes are a leading killer of blues whales today and that hundreds of whales die each year from being struck by ships crossing through their migratory patterns. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) estimated that around 80 endangered blue whales might die each year due to ship strikes off the west coast of North America alone. Reducing speeds of travel through shipping lanes, adjusting shipping lanes to be outside of migratory zones, reducing ocean pollution, and reducing ocean pollution and other ocean threats will only serve to help these animals live longer lives.
7. Blue whales communicate with other blue whales.
Blue whales do form strong bonds with other whales. They have the loudest call of any animal on earth, reaching up to 188 decibels; however, it is so low it is difficult for the human ear to hear. Blue whale facts that may surprise you are that blue whales will communicate with each other thousands of miles across the open ocean using these low-frequency calls. While they may be able to communicate with other whales, the life of a blue whale is a pretty lonely one. Rarely will these magnificent animals travel together; if they do, it is typically with only 2 to 3 other individuals and only for a short time. Mothers will care for their young for about a year, before the young whale leaves and lead a life independently.
Another interesting blue whale fact is that blue whales do not sing like male humpback whales. Instead, they create unique sounds that play a crucial role in communicating with other whales along their migration journey. Their sounds are detected by other blue whales swimming miles away. Although the blue whale is typically solitary by nature, their communication with one another is quite complex and necessary to form bonds over time and across the vast open ocean.
8. Blue whales have long migrations.
Blue whales also have the longest mammal migration, traveling up to 16,000 miles a year searching for food. WOWZERS! We all know that traveling is exhausting, but when you weigh 300 tons, your body needs to adapt to ensure you can endure the trip. This next set of blue whale facts will fascinate you. Did you know that a blue whale will slow their heart rate to 2-3 beats per minute to maximize energy expenditure? How incredible is that? Bradycardia is when the heart irregularly slows down from a typical paced heartbeat. Blue whales will go into bradycardia when they dive to great depths. The main reason for this is to conserve oxygen and reduce oxygen consumption. By slowing their heart rate, blue whales can decrease their metabolic rate, which helps them extend the amount of time they can spend underwater.
9. Blue whales mate.
Like other animals in nature, male blue whales compete with other males for the prized affection of a female. Now this is a blue whale fact you may have already known, but did you know that blue whale males may vocalize their preference to a female blue whale or show physical dominance to another male blue whale for the affection of a female? It is not uncommon for blue whales to physically jostle with one another as a form of physical competition for breeding rights. Breeding season usually takes place over the colder winter months. Females reach sexual maturity around five to ten years, while males may take up to 15 years to reach sexual maturity. While this is relatively young for whales with a lifespan of 90 years, most blue whales begin reproducing at the ages of 10-15 (or even older) for females and 10-12 (and older) for males. Once a female’s egg has become fertilized, the female blue whale will carry her fetus for approximately 10-12 months, much like that of many other whale species, before giving birth to a single calf. One of the unique blue whale facts about birthing is that all baby whales are born tail first to protect the young whales from drowning during childbirth. Since blue whales are mammals, they require air to breathe like humans. During delivery, their central airway, known as the blowhole, is the last to be delivered so that the mom can push her baby to the surface just after childbirth to take that life, creating the first breath of fresh oxygen.
10. Humans are blue whales’ biggest threat.
Sadly, blue whales were predated by humans more than any other predator. They still need more than their great size to protect them from humankind. Hunted nearly to extinction for what is believed to be valuable blubber, these animals were stripped for their fat source. Oil for lanterns, soap, candles, and margarine are all examples of how their blubber was used to make products on land. Ship strikes now account for the majority of blue whale deaths. Today, approximately 10,000 – 25,000 blue whales are left in the world, ranking them on the endangered species list.
From their impressive size to outstanding communication and feeding tactics, the blue whale is a true wonder of nature. In the lead, as the largest animal ever known to exist, the blue whale has an incredible range of adaptations that make it unique in the animal kingdom. It is our responsibility to ensure their survival. Through reading more about them, we hope you will spread awareness about their plight so they continue to thrive and others will see and enjoy them for many generations to come.
Until Next Time,
Jess Wright, First Mate & Marine Mammal Naturalist