The whale is a member of the cetacean family. The order of cetaceans is a group of mammals that breathe air, give birth to live offspring, and produce milk. The cetacean family includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The Antarctic Blue Whale is the largest animal on our planet; this, along with many other whale facts, has led many to study and wonder about these majestic ocean-dwelling giants.
Whales are marine mammals that grow to more than 45 feet long and weigh up to 200 tons. There are up to 90 species of whales3. Other cetacean members are often called whales; however, whale species do not include dolphins and porpoises. Here are a bunch of interesting facts about whales you may not know.
Related: For other interesting facts and info about the animal kingdom, you might also like to check out our list of bird facts, and have a browse of some of the more ugly animals out there (that we still love).
Further, read up on the work of 12 environmentalists working across conversation and preservation of our natural world, and enjoy a little reflection by reading nature quotes to see what others have to say about our environment...
Whales are the largest animals on planet earth. Even the Jaekelopterus does not compare to a whale in size and height.
The blue whale takes the win as the largest animal in the world since the beginning of time. An average blue whale weighs about 220 tons, as much as 30 elephants! - and its height is about 98ft long. The right whale weighs up to 50 tons and is almost 65 feet long.
Whales are truly magnificent creatures. The smallest adult whale weighs an average of 40 tons. Records show that the longest whale to be seen in the history of humankind is 110 feet long. Also, a newborn blue whale is almost 25 feet long.
The two types of whales are the teeth and baleen whales. Toothed whales are, well, whales with teeth and use them to devour fish, squids, and seals. However, they use these teeth for grabbing and then swallow their catches whole, meaning these teeth don’t end up chewing.
Interestingly, the distinctive Narwhal whale (featured in our list of 30 animals that start with N), has what looks like a horn, which is actually a long tooth. Typically, it is only male narwhals that possess this tusk.
Baleen whales, on the other hand, are whales with baleen plates instead of teeth. The baleen plate is keratin, the same substance the forms hair and nails in the human body. The baleen plate acts as a fishing net, sifting plankton and small fish from the ocean waters.
When baleen whales want to feed, they take a big gulp of ocean water. As they spit the water out, the baleen plate keeps the prey in the whale's mouth.
Whales are regarded as mammals because they can perform the living functions of other mammals. They are warm-blooded, breathe air, produce milk for their offspring, and have live births. They evolved from ungulate ancestors over 40 million years ago. Their ancestors migrated from land to water, and as such, they evolved into marine mammals.
For survival, whales have to come up for air at regular intervals. However, they can swim for an extended period underwater. It is possible because of the unique structure of a whale’s respiratory system. Whales have a blowhole at the top of their body that allows them to stay underwater for a while, the longest underwater record of a whale is an hour and thirty minutes.
Some whales have more than two stomachs, which allows them to go multiple days without eating. The Baird's whale, one of the beaked whales, has the most stomachs of any animal in the world, with up to 13 stomach chambers.
Whales do not have any natural predators. The only predator they have is the human species. There are whale killers that hunt whales down for their hides, meat, and oil.
During a time in human history called the whaling era, multiple whale species were endangered or on the verge of extinction. Fortunately, whale conservation organizations are making efforts to protect these amazing creatures.
Whales have a long life span ranging from 20 years to 100 years. Blue whales can live up to 90 years. The Antarctic blue whale lives up to 90 years before dying.
Also, fin whales can live up to 80 years before death catches up with them. Scientific studies have tried to understand the truth behind the whale with the longest lifespan. The bowhead whale has records of staying alive for more than 200 years.
Whales have interesting social structures. Whales live together in groups called pods. They develop deep bonds with each other and do all activities together, except for some species of baleen whales who live alone. The size of a pod is often between 3 whales to 10 whales.
All whales in a pod assist in caring for the young, especially if their mother is deceased. Female whales form close bonds with their offspring. Also, the females have no obligations toward male whales, allowing them to have multiple mating partners.
However, larger baleen whales often travel in small groups or alone, coming together with others to search for food or mating.
Although science does not understand how a whale’s brain works completely, one of the more interesting whale facts shows that there are some similarities to the human brain. A whale’s brain can solve complex puzzles and problems2.
In 2012, a female gray whale traveled 13,988 miles in 172days. The different species of whales all have different migrating routines. Whales migrate because their feeding grounds are separate from their mating grounds. They migrate for the sake of breeding and feeding. Humpbacks migrate to the southern hemisphere to mate and give birth to young calves in the tropical waters.
You probably think that the blue whale got its name from the color of its hide. However, that is not the case. Blue whales get their names from their natural habitat, the ocean. They live in beautiful blue waters. They have tiny diatoms on their skin that forms a blue glow around them, giving them a blue color shade. Blue whales have spotted grey hide- they are not blue.
Whales are notorious for their enormous sizes. While the blue whale is known for its gigantic body, the sperm whale has the most massive brain of all types of whales. A sperm whale’s brain weighs up to 9 kilograms.
Whales communicate with each other using sound waves. A Sperm whale makes the loudest sounds out of all types of whales. Their sound clicks are at 230 pure decibels. Although, we humans can't hear them because the sounds don't last for a long time, and they're out of range.
Besides having the world’s largest and lengthiest body, blue whales also have the biggest heart. It is comparable to the size of a small-sized golf car, as it weighs about 180kg.
Another interesting whale fact about the blue whale’s heart is its heartbeat. You can hear their heartbeat from 2 miles away in the ocean. Also, a blue whale’s heartbeat drastically reduces when diving. Scientists say that it is a way of saving oxygen when they’re deep in the ocean.
Whales are good singers. Some of their songs even make it to album charts. Whale songs are complex sequences learned from other whales. They make these songs by using a repetitive string of low-pitched whistles and sounds.
Humpback whale songs are an integral part of the whale culture because they are the best singers out of all whales. Male humpback whales sing beautiful songs that last for 30 mins. And it can go on for days. They can sing up to 7 different octaves, and their songs sound remarkably similar to human music. Like every musician, humpback whales change the sequence of their songs every year as a new breeding season begins.
However, the blue whale has the reputation of singing at the lowest frequency known to man. They are next in line for the title of the loudest animal on earth because they make sound clicks at 185 decibels. Blue whales can also sing for 11 days at a stretch.
Whales also use sounds for echolocation, emitting sounds that bounce off prey and their surroundings enabling them to "see" underwater.
In cases of food scarcity, whale species switch from their big-sized fish diet to eating small aquatic creatures and other small organisms. Krill is a tiny crustacean, a favorite diet of baleen whales like blue, humpback, and rorqual whales, and they consume huge quantities of fish to sustain themselves.
However, despite their size, Humpback whales can go without eating for up to six months of the year. During this time, they live off fat reserves and keep warm as a result of a thick layer of blubber as they migrate from their tropical breeding grounds to the colder waters of the Antarctic.
Scientists' studies show that grey whales roll on their right side when they feed. Other whales feed on the left side of their bodies.
Toothed whales have teeth, unlike the baleen whale with an oral plate of keratin. Two popular toothed whale species are the killer whales and the sperm whale. Killer whales are dangerous hunters, but they hunt together as a group. Interestingly you might not know that killer whales, or Orcas, are the largest member of the dolphin family and not actually whales (despite their name).
Beluga whales earned the title from their unique communication system. They have a bulging forehead that changes shape. This feature allows them to make different sequences of chirps, clicks, and squeals. Their changing forehead also allows them to make funny but cute facial expressions.
Our big list of whale facts is ample cause to protect these amazing creatures. However, whales become endangered because of climate change, environmental pollution, and whale hunting practices. Here are some of the endangered whales:
Finally, a study shows that whale poop can help improve biodiversity1. The study found that baleen whales can consume as much as 30% of their body weight every day, and the krill, once digested, helps provide essential nutrients for other sea life.
Another interesting fact is that when a whale's diet is full of krill, they leave behind a red substance on the water when they poop. This is due to the high iron content in the krill they consume.
Savoca, M.S., Czapanskiy, M.F., Kahane-Rapport, S.R. et al. Baleen whale prey consumption based on high-resolution foraging measurements. Nature 599, 85–90 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03991-5
Andy Coghlan, (November 27, 2006). Whales boast the brain cells that 'make us human'.
Whale and dolphin conservation, Whale and dolphin species guide.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.