Dividing The Whales In Half

americas-whale-alliance-baleen-mouthWhale is just a common everyday word used to describe the diverse group of majestic water mammals that can be found on this Earth.  To say that there are two types of whales seems like it would be a tad bit misleading, so instead I’ll say that there are two small orders of whales which are Odontoceti ( toothed whales) and Mysticeti (baleen whales).

As the name suggests, tooth whales are characterized by having teeth because not all whales do.  Their teeth are conical shaped and designed for catching squid and fish.  Tooth whales have a wide range in size: from 1.4 m (4.5 ft) and 54 kg (120 lb) to 39-to-66 ft (12-to-20 m) and 12-to-61-short-ton (11-to-55 t).

Here are a few more characteristics of tooth whales (Odontoceti):

– Some species exhibit sexual dimorphism – the female can be larger than the male
– Travels very fast in water – up to 20 knots
– Great hearing – Could survive without eyesight
– Males will mate with multiple females every year
– Females will mate only every two to three years
– Females usually give birth during the spring and summer
– Usually the female is entirely responsible for raising the calf

Baleen whales (Mysticeti) are characterized by their filter feeder system.  These particular whales don’t have teeth but baleen which are likened to bristles and are made of keratin.  This is actually the same substance that makes up our hair and fingernails.  The filter feeder system works when the whales opens it’s mouth underwater and takes in lots of water.  The whale pushes the water out and the food sources such as krill are filtered by the baleen and americas-whale-alliance-baleenremains in the whale.  The baleen size and usage varies in whales.  Baleen in some whales, say for instance the bowhead whale, is longer than most.  Some whales only use one side of their baleen.  The size of baleen whales range in size from 6 m (20 ft) and 3,000 kg (6,600 lb) to 34 m (112 ft) and 210 short tons (190 t).

Here are some more characteristics of baleen whales (Mysticeti)

– Some species exhibit sexual dimorphism – the female can be larger than the male
– Body size is usually very large
– Can swim very fast – the fastest has been known to travel up to 23 miles per hour (37 km/h)
– Unable to turn their neck at all because of a fused neck vertebrae
– Have two blowholes
– Prefer cold waters around the poles (North and South)
– Males will mate with multiple females every year
– Females usually give birth during the spring and summer
– Are very vocal

Whales evolved from from mammals that lived on land and because of this, they must breath air often.  They have blowholes at the top of their heads that help with them taking in air often.  This air is expelled, through their blowholes, in the form of vapor.  They are warm blooded and have a layer of blubber under their skin that helps them to maintain a body temperature to that of a human… even in cold waters.

Whales were once aggressively hunted for their oil, baleen, blubber, and meat but now international laws makes it extremely difficult for people to hunt whales for any reason.  The North Atlantic Right Whales almost came to a point of extinction in the 20th century because their numbers dropped to about 450 in total.  The North Pacific Gray Whale has been put on the critically endangered species list because of not only hunting but marine pollution, ocean acidification (decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans),  and naval sonar (whales are highly sensitive to these sonar sounds from ships and quickly run when they hear the sounds… no matter if they are mating or feeding).

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