Whales!! What are they?
Whales are marine mammals. And liike most living things, whales breathe, feed, mate, reproduce and even raise their children on the sea. Whales are warm blooded and their blubber (the fat layer between the skin and muscle of whales from which oil is made) protects them from the cold waters. Whales belong to the order of Cetacea informally. Cetacean simply refers to aquatic mammals which have fins and are carnivorous. These include whales, dolphins, porpoises. Whales , Dolphins, Porpoises in actuality belong to the order of Cetartio-dactyla (that is even-toed ungulates); ungulate means hoofed animal. The closest animal in this group is hippopotamus. Most whales feeds largely on fish, and plankton. Few ones such as the killer whale feed on large marine mammals and birds like (penguins and seal).
Whale watching, the act of observing whales and dolphins in their habitat is prevalent in a lots of countries. Albeit whale watching could be done for educational purposes but they are mostly undertaken as a fun activity. Observing whales in their grandeur in the waters is an awe-inspiring venture that should be experienced by all. Whales are migratory. They travel from the cold waters to warm waters most of the time to feed, rest mate and give birth. These cetaceans are prevalent in a lot of countries including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Canary Islands, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Iceland, Ireland , Norway, Panama, Portugal, Scandinavia, South Africa, Spain, Uruguay, and USA. In USA, the Fin, Humpback, Orca, and Minke whales can be sighted on the waters of cities such as Alaska, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts. Species such as the Beluga, Fin, Gray, Minke, Orca, Right whales can be found in the provinces like British Columbia, New Brunswick, New Foundland, Nova Scotia and Quebec in Canada. There are about 25 species of Cetacean in the Caribbean. Prevalent in the regions of Bermuda, Dominaca, Dominique Republic are the Beaked, Humpback and Sperm whales.
Species, Size and Lifespan
Whales range in size from the 2.6 metres in length which is the Dwarf Sperm whale to 30 metres in length which is the Blue whale. There are a huge variety of species and they all have their unique identities and attributes. Baleen whales (also called whalebone whales) have no teeth but a set of baleen plates in its upper jaw that act like a strainer. When the whales take in water, the baleen traps in the krill and plankton from the water as food for the whale. Baleen whales are further divided into four different families which i don’t want to bore you with but examples are the Blue, Bowhead, Fin, Gray, Humpback and Right whales. Toothed whales on the other hand, have sharp teeth and a blowhole which are used for hunting. Toothed whales include Belugas, Killer, Narwhal, Porpoises, and the Sperm whales.
The Blue Whale
The blue whale has a long and slender body and it is the largest creature known to have ever dwelled on earth. The biggest recorded blue whale was a female in the Antarctic Ocean and it was 30.5metres long. To be clear, that’s 3.5 times the length of a double-decker bus and almost as long as a Boeing 737 plane with an estimated weight of 144 tonnes. The tongue of a blue whale can weigh as much as an elephant and when fully expanded, an entire football team can stand on it. The life span is between 80 and 110 years. Blue whales in the Antarctic ocean are found to be bigger than those found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The Killer Whale
Also known as Orca, the killer whale which is the largest in the dolphin family has black back with white chest and sides. Killer whales are extremely social. They can play with balls thrown at them as well as imitate others. The lifespan of the killer whale is 29 years.
The Sperm Whale
The sperm whale is the largest among the toothed whales. They have a distinctive block-shaped head and a triangular thick tails. They can live for more than 60 years. Spermaceti oil which is used in making candles , lubricants and others is from the head of the sperm whale and that is where it name is derived from. It also called the “cachalot” which means “big teeth”. The sperm whale makes the loudest noise, a record of about 230 decibels.
The Humpback Whale
The humpback whale is identified by it chunky body, a conspicuous hump ,an elongated fin and a black dorsal (upper side). They live between 45 and 100 years. The male humpback sing in warm waters where they breed and give birth. They however make rougher sounds and groans in cold water.
Whale watching is growing rapidly and it is believed that some of the activities associated with this venture may affect the lifestyle and the evolution of these acquatic mammals. It has been established that activities like whale watching expeditions as well as the vessels used significantly impact the physiology and conservation of whales and other cetaceans. Environmental advocates continue to push for safe practices in whale watching ventures. They drive the need for whale watchers to follow local governing whale watching regulations in order to protects these mammals. Some of these do’s and don’ts are;
- Minimize speed of vessels
- Avoid sudden turns
- Do not pursue, encircle or come in between whales
- Approach animals from angles where they will not be taken by surprise
- Consider cumulative impact – minimize number of boats at any one time/per day
- Do not coerce dolphins into bow-riding.
A substanstial amount of marine mammals are found right from the the Artic to the Pacific oceans. Whales can be seen in anytime of the year. However, April through December are the best times to see the Blue, Humpback and Dolphins. Gray whales are also prevalent from December to March. I must say that the place you find yourself in watching whales is a factor to be considered in determining the best time .So where ever you find yourself, why don’t you get the thrill of sighting a Blue, Fin, Humpback or Killer whales. Don’t be left out in the fun.
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