Whales are fascinating creatures. The sheer size of these animals is in itself remarkable. Whales can grow to impressive sizes with the blue whale being the largest animal in the world at an astonishing length of 30 m. What you may also find surprising is that whales are not fish. In fact, they are mammals. This means that they have lungs and have to breathe air. They therefore have to surface from time to time in order to breathe, and like other mammals they produce milk and actually nurse their babies. They usually only give birth to one baby at a time, although twins are sometimes born. The mother does nurse the baby by producing a huge quantity of thick milk. This milk is at least half fat which helps the baby to develop the fat known as blubber.
Blubber is very important for whales to have because they are warm-blooded animals like all mammals. In order to stay warm enough their bodies have to have this layer of fat. To build up this protective layer of blubber they have to feed voraciously during the summer months when food is most abundant. They often lose a great deal of blubber during migration when they may not feed much.
Whales can be divided into baleen whales, and toothed whales which have teeth that they use when they catch prey. Toothed whales hunt, catch and swallow prey whole. They can eat fairly large sized fish which they aggressively hunt for. Baleen whales have structures called baleen plates instead of teeth. They consume large numbers of small prey such as krill which become trapped in the baleen plates as water flows through the mouth.
Whales are extremely large animals, which means that they have to eat large amounts of food every day in order to stay alive. Baleen whales therefore have to filter a large quantity of seawater in order to extract enough tiny animals to survive. Toothed whales, such as sperm whales hunt for prey by using echolocation. Baleen whales, meanwhile, can produce sounds, for instance the beluga whale produces noises that sounds like “chirping” which is why they are sometimes called the “canaries of the sea”.
Whales are incredible animals. They often migrate very long distances around the world. Gray whales for instance travel an incredible distance of about 20,000 km each year between their Mexican calving grounds where they breed and their popular feeding grounds in the seas surrounding the Arctic Circle. Whales are also adapted to life in the oceans. They have dorsal fins and flippers to help them move through the water with ease. They have structures called blowholes on the top of the head which allow them to take in air when they surface. They are also able to stay under the water for a long time.
Whales can be highly vocal and communicate with each other by various songs and sounds that they make. They are also social animals swimming together and sometimes hunting together in social groups called pods.