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Marine Mammal Masters

Mammals are a darn cool animal family. It's a family of diversity, adaptability and new mysteries yet to discover. This diversity is what has helped generate some amazing mammal skills too. Let’s narrow it down though, and focus on some of the most awe-inspiring mammals of the lot: Whales

So in no particular order, theme or structure, let’s break down the Marine Masters of the mammal kingdom, and some of their greatest hits.

Sperm Whales –

The largest of the toothed whales, the largest toothed predator and one of the flat out largest animals of all, the mighty Sperm Whale is a giant of the mammal kingdom in so many ways. The specific focus here though is their deep sea diving abilities. The Sperm Whale is the deepest diving mammal on the planet, able to dive to depths of nearly one and a half miles below sea level on the hunt for the illusive giant squid on which they feed.

Going hand in hand (or fin in fin) with that diving talent is their other top of the range ability. Sperm Whales can hold their breath for the longest of any mammal with dives that can last for pushing two hours on a single breath. The science behind how they can last that long without a breath is pretty complex. In essence, the particles in their blood that hold oxygen are electrically charged to a greater degree than most diving mammals, meaning that those molecules repel each other and hold and move their oxygen supply for longer. Phew!

The last but by no means least awesome attribute is that strangely shaped head they have. Like many marine mammals, Sperm Whales use echo-location and sonar when underwater to get a better picture of their surroundings. This is a crucial tactic in the pitch black of depths at which they hunt. That huge head contains a near drum type structure that captures the rebounding echoes giving the animal the picture it needs. This deep sea echo locations system is thought to be a contributing factor in the beaching of several Sperm Whales recently along British and main land European coasts. Echo confusion is caused by the relatively shallow and narrow waters of the North Sea, compared to the usual open ocean the Sperm Whales are used to. The sheer size is due to the massive areas it hunts in, and the fact that the Sperm Whale has the largest brain of any known animal alive or extinct. It’s five times heavier than a human’s.

Oh, and they can swim at 30mph and live for 70 years. How cool are these guys?!

flickr | Alexander SafonovBlue Whales –

You’ve heard of these chaps no doubt. If not, we can catch you up in one simple sentence: The Blue Whale is the biggest animal that has ever lived. This profile will probably end up as just a list of amazing facts, each slightly less believable than the last, every one of them being true though.
So let’s tackle the size of the thing. The Blue averages around 100 feet long, or 30 metres as well as 200 tons. For those of us still used to weighing ourselves in stone, 200 tons roughly translates into 29,000 stone. They have a heart the size of a car and some blood vessels so wide that you could use them as a flume. The width of their tail is as long as a light aircraft’s wings. Their blowhole on top of their head is wide enough for a baby to crawl through. You and 400 of your friends would fit in its mouth and it can swallow a volume of water larger than itself.

Despite this massive size, the Blue Whale feeds on one of the smallest animals out there, Krill. Also despite their size, they’re still a relative mystery to science given their vast migration routes and the relatively little inhabitants or traffic of the oceans they cross, such as the Indian. We do know though that they live to 100 years old.

What more convincing that you need that these creatures are awesome? Those facts are jaw-droopingly big.

flickr | Heather & MikeOrca/Killer Whales –

Taking a liberty a little bit with this entry, as Orca/Killer Whales aren’t actually whales at all. They’re the biggest and baddest member of the Dolphin family and if it wasn’t for us humans, these chaps would be the world’s apex predator. They combine brains and brawn in a way that is rivalled by none and dominate the oceans they live in, which is all of them. They vary their diet depending on what’s available and have proved to be amply successful hunting anything, including the odd Great White Shark. The largest on record was a 10m long, 10 ton male. They can also swim at 65kph, hold their breath for 15 minutes and live for 50 years. These guys are athletes.

The Killer Whale is so intelligent that it’s been witnessed exhibiting behaviour that includes mourning, intuition, problem solving, planning, patience, teaching and celebration. A notable international conservation icon thanks to its involvement with Sea World in recent years, the Orca Whales of the wild are not considered endangered, but are a great marker for the health of a habitat or area overall. Such is their intelligence that they’ve been described before as the only animals that really know if they’re in captivity. That says a lot.

The Killer Whale is the oceans best of the best and a well deserving member of our Marine Masters list.

flickr | Rennett StoweThose are the big guns of the marine mammal world, but they’re also the tip of the iceberg. So here are some honourable mentions and some honourable facts.

  • The Humpback Whale makes the loudest sound in the animal kingdom as well as makes the longest migration. Over its lifetime, the Humpback Whale will have migrated the equivalent distance of travelling to the moon and back.
  • The bowhead whale is the only Whale species that lives in the arctic all year round, they also live the longest. The oldest on record was 211 years old.
  • The Narwhal is considered the perpetrator of the origin of myths of Unicorns, when travellers through far flung oceans killed the whales for their impressive tusks and brought them back.

flickr | AnnaWe’ve only really scratched the surface with our own ocean exploration, we know more about the surface of the moon. For now then, we’ll leave the ocean mastery to these guys. We can learn a lot from them, if we make the effort to conserve them, that is.

If you want to get involved in helping out the mighty marine mammals, check out Frontier Marine Conservation Projects including Canada Kayaking with Orcas and Tenerife Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern

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