Common name: Blue Whale
Scientific name: Balaenoptera musculus
Nickname(s): “Sulfur Bottom” (Cold water “diatoms,” one of the most common types of phytoplankton, adhere to blue whales’ skin, sometimes give their bellies a yellowish tinge, giving the blue whale this nickname.)
Size: Blue whales aren’t just the largest animal currently living on earth, they are the largest animal ever, according to National Geographic. With the average blue whale growing to anywhere from 70 – 90 feet and weighing in at 200,000 to 300,000 pounds, it is hard to imagine without a point of reference. The largest blue whale on record was 110 feet in length.
Other physical characteristics: Blue whales are blue-gray in color. Compared to some other whales species, blue whales are long and streamlined, making them fast swimmers. They have small dorsal fins are and pectoral flippers that are long and thin.
Habitat: Blue whales are found in every ocean in the world. They usually swim in small groups or pairs. An estimated 2,000 blue whales live off the California Coast, migrating each winter to Mexico, and Costa Rica.
Feeding: In spite of being the largest animal on Earth, blue whales are far from fierce in their eating habits. Like some of their whale counterparts including humpbacks, right whales, and gray whales, they are baleen whales. This means that instead of having teeth, they have plates of whalebone in their mouths for straining plankton from the water. Their mouths are gigantic: They can swallow a volume of water larger than themselves. Their favorite food is krill, or shrimp-like invertabrates, that are up to three inches long. During their feeding season they must eat two to three tons of krill a day.
Mating/Breeding: The gestation period is about one full year with females giving birth every two to three years. At birth calves are approximately 23 feet long and weigh 5,000 to 6,000 pounds. A nursing calf can put on up to 250 pounds a day! Calves are weaned at six months, having grow to a length of over 50 feet.
History: The International Whaling Commission declared blue whales protected throughout the world in 1966, following years of hunting that almost brought them to extinction. Estimates vary, but today there are probably somewhere from 8,000-15,000 blue whales in the oceans. They are still considered endangered and are threatened by factors such as pollution.
Interesting fact: Blue whales are among the most mysterious and elusive of whales. They don’t breach like humpbacks and don’t appear interested in “socializing” with humans as other whale species such as gray whales often do. Relatively difficult to see unless you are looking for them, they are best spotted by their large blows, which can shoot water 30 feet in the air (and it smells terrible, if you’re ever lucky enough to be in close proximity.)
Thank you to The Marine Mammal Center, Blue Whale page, for most of this research.
Public domain photos and Some rights reserved of research boat by Oregon State University