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Blue Whale
Blue Whale
 
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Everything about the blue whale is enormous. It is the largest animal on earth, ever. A big blue whale can be 100 feet long and weigh up to 150 tons. That's as large as a Boeing jet. Its heart is as large as a small car. Fifty people could stand on its tongue. Its spout shoots up at least 30 feet when it surfaces for air.

How do whales breathe?
A whale's "nostrils" are called blowholes and are on the top of its head. Some whales have one blowhole and others, like this blue whale, have two. Unlike humans, whales breathe voluntarily. That means they choose when to take a breath. This is important because whales can't breathe underwater. They surface every few minutes to blow out a mixture of water and air and take in a breath of fresh air.

Whales have bellybuttons, too.
Just like you and me, whales have bellybuttons. Like all mammals, they give birth and nurse live young. The bellybutton is what remains of theumbilical cord.
Like all whales, the blue whale is a mammal rather than a fish. It is warm-blooded, has lungs rather than gills, and nourishes its young with milk. A blue whale's milk supposedly tastes like a mixture of fish, liver, milk of magnesia, and castor oil. Bleech! But it's very rich and nourishing for baby blues. A baby blue whale drinks over 50 gallons of its mother's milk in a day. In its first several weeks of life, it gains 10 pounds an hour or a little over 200 pounds a day!

When a baby blue whale is about 6 months old, it starts to eat small shrimp-like animals calledkrill. During its high feeding season, a blue whale consumes more than 4-6 tons of krill in one day.

How many krill can a blue whale eat?
It's hard to imagine, but the world's biggest animal eats animals that are less than 1/1000th its size. In order to get enough to eat, a full-grown blue whale might eat 40 million krill in one day!
Krill
In order to get that much to eat, a blue whale can expand its throat to take in as much as 50 tons of water in one gulp. Then it forces the water out through comb-like plates which keep the krill in and let the water filter out. These huge plates are called baleen. Baleen is made of the same material as our fingernails.

All whaleshave amazing adaptations that help them survive in the ocean. Whales don't sleep like you and me. If they did, they would drown. Instead, whales take very short naps, often floating near the surface of the ocean. Whales rely on their thick layers of blubber to keep them warm in cold waters.

While we know a lot about whales and we are learning more every day, there are still some questions we haven't been able to answer. We know blue whales migrate from polar waters where they feed to warmer, temperate waters where they breed and have babies. But no one's sure how blue whales navigate these long distances. It's possible that they have the ability to detect the Earth's magnetic field and use it as a map or a compass. To a small degree, blue whales probably also use their eyes. Recently, some scientists have come up with a new theory about how blue whales navigate. Because blue whales can produce really loud sounds, it's possible that they use these sounds to sense geographical features of the ocean floor. When whales make sounds and then listen to the pattern of returning echoes to help them find direction or find objects, this is calledecholocation.

Blue whales may also make sounds to communicate with other whales and to find a mate.Imagine what it would be like to be the biggest animal in the world swimming alone through the cold ocean waters.

 
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Pictures: Mike Johnson | Steve Leatherwood/National Marine Mammal Lab/NOAA |
Mike Johnson | Audio: Chris Miller/NPS Ocean Acoustic Observatory |