Whales are among the most majestic creatures on the planet. Their sheer size alone is enough to capture our imagination, but they are also some of the most intelligent animals on Earth. The word “whale” used to include porpoises and dolphins, but in this article we will cover giant sea creatures like sperm whales, blue whales, humpback whales, killer whales, and many others that are sources of legend around the world. Let’s look at the most interesting facts about whales.
10 Interesting Facts About Whales
10. Group sex of gray whales
Gray whale mating is unusual in that they always reproduce during group sex. Typically, whales are divided into groups of three individuals, one female, and two males. While other male animals are known to fight for the right to mate with the female, some believe that the second male gray whale is present during mating to help the female get into position to facilitate mating. Whales mate near the surface, which means that their 1.5-meter penises sometimes stick out of the water in all their terrifying glory.
Helping a friend with a lady is just the beginning of describing how close the friendship of male gray whales is. They also engage in homosexual orgies in groups of up to five males. They rub each other’s bellies, intertwine their penises, and lightly nudge each other’s genitals with their foreheads. These homosexual sessions can last for 90 minutes at a time. Sex is only part of the friendship between the males, who also like to swim close to each other and have been friends in groups for several years.
9. The Loneliest Whale in the World
Scientists have been tracking one whale for the past 20 years, but no one has ever seen it. It is known as the 52-hertz whale because it makes sounds at this frequency. He is the only one who makes sounds on this frequency. His nickname “the loneliest whale in the world” comes from the fact that no one ever answers him. The whale’s sounds were first recorded in 1989 using U.S. Navy hydroacoustic receiving antenna arrays and were subsequently spotted by William Watkins of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. It has since been tracked throughout the North Pacific, from the California coast to Alaska.
The story of the lone whale is particularly striking for its similarities to some human stories. The lone whale has inspired people to create masterpieces of art, to write songs, and even to write a play. The documentary crew plans to try to find this whale next year, but one of the scientists on the team thinks the whale may not be as lonely as its reputation suggests. It is possible that the creature, which probably has a vocal anomaly, is part of a group of whales with typical voices, and is not at all solitary.
8. The whale who ate whales
Scientists in Peru have discovered the fossilized jaws of an extinct whale with truly terrifying biting power. They named it Leviathan melvillei, after Herman Melville, known for his work Moby Dick. Although this creature was about the same size as the modern sperm whale called Physeter macrocephalus, its teeth and jaw muscles were much larger. That’s because its diet was completely different.
Modern sperm whales suck squid into their mouths and chew it up. The size of their teeth does not exceed 20 centimeters. Although you can’t call these teeth small either, they don’t compare to the teeth of Leviathan melvillei, which were about twice as big. Their favorite prey was the mustached whales, a suborder that includes humpback and blue whales. Their high blubber content (and, of course, their size) made their toothless relatives a worthy dinner.
7. Whalers of Lamalera
Given that Leviathan melvillei is extinct, modern whales have few natural enemies left. Of them all, man, of course, is the most dangerous. Although many people associate whaling with the Japanese and their major expeditions, there are several indigenous cultures that still catch whales in traditional ways. Aboriginal people were granted exceptions to the international ban on whaling in 1982. By far the most impressive method of whaling is the one used by the people of Lamalera Island in Indonesia.
The people of Lamalera Island catch migrating sperm whales by sailing up to them in small wooden boats and throwing long spears at them. These spears are attached to ropes, and quite often it happens that the boats are dragged along the waves. The villagers fight the whale for hours, eventually swimming alongside it. This is quite risky given that the whale can be up to 15 meters long. They also have the huge teeth we mentioned earlier. Sometimes not all whalers make it back to shore.
6. Whale breeding farms
The idea of whale farms may seem ridiculous (and most people agree that it is), but that has not stopped a few people from proposing such farms in earnest. In 2002, the Japanese city of Hirado, in Nagasaki Prefecture, announced their intention to enclose Minke’s minke whales in a small patch of ocean. They hoped to breed the whales in captivity, including using the artificial insemination method, and eventually planned to open viewing platforms for visitors.
Experts expressed that such plans were both unethical and impractical. Like most species, Minke’s minke whales are migratory animals and travel thousands of miles. It would be incredibly difficult to get them to breed, as well as provide them with enough food. The head of the Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan, which organizes whaling in Japan, was very enthusiastic about the idea, calling it a dream come true. As it turned out, the dream has still not come true.
Whale farms were also the subject of April Fool’s jokes on NPR. They aired comments from listeners that appeared to be in response to a story about a whale farm in Belleville, Illinois. Although the joke seemed obvious (Belleville is usually the target of NPR’s mockery), it was enough to make the query “farmed whales” one of the most popular on Google.
5. Whale Worship
Whales appear in the myths and cultures of different peoples, but by far they occupy the most important place in Vietnam. The country’s coastal villages are known for their whale temples. Fishermen worship these animals, which they consider gods or angels. Fishermen have repeatedly reported that the whales have led them back to safety on shore if they have been caught in storms, so they perform elaborate prayer rituals for the whales before they go to sea.
If a dead whale is found on the beach, the nearby village mourns it in a rather interesting way. They drag its body to the whale cemetery in one of their temples, where it is buried. Then, years later, they exhume the bones and carry them through the streets in a parade with costumed dancers, music, and a martial arts show. The bones are then returned back to the temple and displayed for all to see. Some of these temples are over several hundred years old.
These traditions have been an unexpected victim of climate change. In many areas, sea levels have dropped significantly, moving the shoreline several hundred meters away from the temples. Whale carcasses are large and heavy and it takes a lot of work to move them.
In San Francisco Bay, officials have turned to the current solution to most problems: a phone app. The app lets mariners know the location of all the whales in the vicinity, so safe routes can be planned for the 7,300 vessels that sail out of the city’s harbor each year.
Even if humans don’t kill them on purpose, they can be a big problem for whales. Human sonar devices, such as those used to map the ocean floor, confuse whales and cause them to strand on the beach. In 2008, 100 whales stranded in Madagascar. In the official report of the incident, ExxonMobil’s sonar system was named as the culprit. The petrochemical company itself denied the accusations, which were imputed to it during the first thorough investigation of the link between sonar and the death of the whales.
3. Whale Riding
Most people who do not live in Australia are unlikely to dare even go close to the local waters for fear of being killed by creatures lurking beneath their surface. If Australia’s animal reputation doesn’t repel people, the law against endangering wildlife does. As for whales – you can’t swim near them any closer than 30 meters. None of these reasons, however, stopped Australian teenager Sam Matheson from jumping off a coral reef and taking hold of a southern right whale. The 14-year-old held on tightly to the whale as it rolled him. He later had to apologize, but was still released with a reprimand.
In neighboring New Zealand, whale riding is a key part of the mythology of some Maori cultures. Their legends tell of Paikea, a young boy who found himself abandoned in the middle of the sea after his brothers conspired to kill him. Paikea was rescued by a whale named Tohora. Paikea rode on the whale’s back to the nearest settlement and lived there happily ever after. This legend is the basis of a novel and a famous movie called Whale Rider, about the Whangara people whose leaders are believed to be direct descendants of the first-born male child Paikea. The film tells the story of a young woman who tries to prove that she is worthy to succeed her grandfather and become the first female leader of her people.
2. The mystery of blue whale songs
The mystery of the lone whale emitting sounds at 52 hertz is not the only mystery that has emerged in the wake of whale song recording. Another mystery came to light when the staff at Whale Acoustics, a company that specializes in equipment for recording whale songs, realized that they had to reinstall their equipment every year. The problem was that the blue whales’ vocalizations were getting deeper and deeper. Whale Acoustics partnered with scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to examine old recordings and found the exact same pattern in the 1960s. Biologists just don’t know why this is happening.
If whales were trying to sing louder to be heard by their fellow whales, contrary to the noise created by shipping, they would be singing at a higher pitch. It’s also possible that when we started recording whale songs, their population was quite small, because they were nearly extinct in the first half of the 20th century.
They probably needed to make sounds at higher frequencies in order to hear each other at greater distances, but population recovery has allowed them to make sounds at lower frequencies. Nevertheless, the same pattern of communication is observed even in those groups of whales that managed to avoid overextermination. Another explanation could be the fact that only male blue whales make singing sounds, so their songs may be related to mating. Because a whale’s voice becomes deeper as it grows, only large whales tend to make deep sounds. It is likely that the younger and smaller males simply began to imitate them, causing a chain reaction in which the whales sing with increasingly deeper voices.
1. Whale culture is very advanced
Culture is one of those things we usually discuss only from a human perspective, but the ability to communicate ideas exists in the animal world as well. Our primate cousins, such as apes and chimpanzees, are prime examples of this. However, outside of our own species, the most developed culture is that of the whales.
Cetaceans are very intelligent. Dolphins are usually the ones that get good reviews in this area, and it’s fair to say that they are quite intelligent and boast one of the highest brain-to-body mass ratios on Earth. However, orcas aren’t far behind either, their brains are the second largest of all marine animals, and their brain-to-body weight ratio is similar to that of chimpanzees. The largest brains on the planet belong to sperm whales, while the largest brain surface area is found in the brains of humpback whales. Needless to say, whales can do amazing things with this kind of computing power.
A study of the complexity and persistence of cultural behavior and vocalization among killer whales has shown that no other animal besides humans and killer whales can boast of such results. In the 1980s, a small group of humpback whales developed a new method of catching prey. Since then, scientists have observed how this method is transmitted through whale social groups and realized that whales learn from each other.
Research on sperm whales has shown that they essentially live in multicultural societies. There are five different dialects of whale sounds in the South Pacific, and even though whales may clash with each other geographically, they avoid interacting with whales that do not belong to their own clan. Different behaviors are observed in whales making different sounds. In the Galapagos Islands, whales that use five clicks in a row swim in a circle close to land, while the group that pauses instead of the fourth click swims in straight lines, further from shore.