Animal Info Whales Physical Facts

About the physical facts and behavior of whales including their brains, hearings and adaptation to underwater enviornment.



Every anatomical feature of the whale has undergone a transformation to equip it better for aquatic life. Modifications in the respiratory and circulatory systems allow whales to dive safely for periods of up to one hour and to depths of 4,000 ft., as in the case of sperm whales. A flawless hydrodynamic shape in which all sensory organs are recessed into slits to reduce drag enables whales to swim at speeds of up to 35 mph, propelled by powerful lateral tail flukes. Senses of taste and smell have all but vanished, and vision is poorly developed, but the sense of hearing is the most elaborate and acute of any creature on earth. Whales can produce and receive sounds--bleeps, whistles, clicks, moans, and complex "songs"--in a range from below our lowest hearing frequency to 13 times greater than our upper hearing frequency. The normal and lower ranges are used to communicate over long distances underwater, and the higher frequencies are used in sonar echolocation to determine topography, identify objects, and find food--often in total darkness. The largest of the whales, the female blue, may grow up to 100 ft., weigh about 150 tons, and live a century. Their chief natural enemy is an inner-ear parasite, but they have been found with "human" ailments such as ulcers, dental caries, and even tonsillitis.

Whales have, both in actual size and by proportion, the largest and most complex brains of any animal, including man. The cetacean brain weighs about 5 1/2 times as much as the average human's. Having no external technology for recording, the whale uses much of its brain as a huge memory bank for storing vast amounts of detailed cultural and environmental data. Tests on the smaller whales have strongly indicated the ability to carry out future plans as well as powers of initiative and reasoning and a grasp of traditions and ethics.

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