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Blue Whales

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Essay title: Blue Whales

The Blue whale is the largest creature of the sea, in fact, it is the largest creature known to man. Contrary to what most people think, even though Blue whales live in the sea, they are mammals. They breathe air, have their babies born alive and can live anywhere from 30 to 70 years. The Blue whale is a baleen whale, and instead of having teeth, Blue whales have around 300-400 baleen plates in their mouths. They fall under the category of the rorquals, which are the largest of the baleen family. The scientific name of the Blue whale is, Balsenoptera musculus.

Key Words: Balaenoptera musculus, Suborder Mysticeti, balaenoptera intermedia, balaenoptera brevicauds, baleen whale, rorqual, calf, sulfur bottom, Sibbald^s Rorqual, Great Northern Rorqual, gulpers, blowholes, blubber, oil, keratin, krill, copepods, plankton, orcas, endangered Introduction Whales are separated into two groups, the baleen and the toothed whales. The blue whale is the largest baleen whale and the largest animal that ever lived on Earth, including the largest dinosaurs. Baleen are rows of coarse, bristle-like fibers used to strain plankton from the water. Baleen is made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails. They live in pods, the have two blowholes. The blue whale has a 2-14 inch (5-30cm) thick layer of blubber. Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) are baleen whales (Suborder Mysticeti). They are one of 76 species and are marine mammals.

Background The Blue whale is called a ^rorqual^, a Norwegian word for ^furrow^ referring to the pleated grooves running from its chin to its naval. The pleated throat grooves allow the Blue whale^s throat to expand during the huge intake of water during filter feeding; they can ^hold 1,000 tons or more of food and water when fully expanded^ (Small 1971). Blue whales have 50-70 throat grooves.

Blue whales grow up to about 80 feet (25m) long on average, weighing about 120 tons. The females are generally larger than the males, this is the case for all baleen whales. ^The largest specimen found was a female 94 feet (29m) long weighing more than 174 tons^ (Satchell 1998). The head of the Blue whale forms up to a quarter of the total body length. Compared with other rorquals, the head is very broad. The blue whale heart is the size of a small car and can pump almost 10 tons of blood throughout the body. They have a very small, falcate (sickle-shaped) dorsal fin that is located near the fluke, or tail. Blue whales have long, thin flippers 8 feet (2.4m) long and flukes that are 25feet (7.6m) wide.

The blue whale^s skin is usually blue-gray with white-gray spots. The underbelly has brown, yellow, or gray specks. During the winter, in cold waters, diatoms stick to the underbelly, giving it a yellow to silver- to sulfur-colored sheen; giving the blue whale its nick-name of ^sulfur bottoms^. Other names include Sibbald^s Rorqual and Great Northern Rorqual.

Blue whales (like all baleen whales) are seasonal feeders and carnivores that filter feed tiny crustaceans (krill, copepods, etc), plankton, and small fish from the water. Krill, or shrimp-like euphasiids are no longer than 3 inches. It is amazing that the world^s largest animals feed on the smallest marine life. Blue whales are gulpers, filter feeders that alternatively swim then gulp a mouthful of plankton or fish. ^An average-sized blue whale will eat 2,000-9,000 pounds (900-4100kg) of plankton each day during the summer feeding season in cold, arctic waters (120 days)^ (Hasley 1984).

The blue whale has twin blowholes with exceptionally large fleshy splashguards to the front and sides. It has about 320 pairs of black baleen plates with dark gray bristles in the blue whale^s jaws. These plates can be 35-39 inches (90cm-1m) long, 21 inches (53cm) wide, and weigh 200 pounds (90kg). This is the largest of all the rorquals, but not the largest of all the whales. The tongue weighs 4 tons. Blue whales live individually or in very small pods (groups). They frequently swim in pairs.

When the whale comes to the surface of the water, he takes a large breath of air. Then he dives back into the water, going to a depth of 350 feet (105m). Diving is also the way in which whales catch most of their food. Whales can stay under water for up to two hours without coming to the surface for more air. Blue whales breath air at the surface of the water through 2 blowholes located near the top of the head. ^ They breathe about 1-4 times per minute at rest, and 5-12 times per minute after a deep dive^ (Hasley 1984). Their blow is a single stream that rises 40-50 feet (12-15m) above the surface of the water. Blue whales are very fast swimmers; they normally swim 3-20 mph, but can go up to 24-30mph in bursts when in danger. Feeding speeds

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