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Imagine an animal so big, an entire class room can fit into it. Well, some whales do grow that big. However, in spite of their size, whales are generally not dangerous to human beings.

Whales are sea-dwelling animals. They are not fish, but mammals just like us. This is because they are warm-blooded animals that give birth to live young instead of laying eggs like fishes. Also, unlike fish, which breathe through gills, whales breathe through lungs. They swim in water using their fins and tails. Scientifically, whales belong to a group of mammals called the Cetaceans.

How many types of whales are there?

There are many different species of whales, but all belong to either one of these two groups: Baleen whales and Toothed whales.

Baleen whales

Baleen whales are usually much bigger. They are called baleen whales because, instead of teeth, they have specialised comb-like formations on their upper jaw, called baleen. Though they are so big, they only feed on minute sea animals such as krill and plankton. A baleen whale feeds by gulping large amounts of water in its gigantic mouth, then closing the mouth, and pushing out the water with the help of its tongue. This way, it can eat the krill and plankton that are trapped inside. With each gulp, the whale may trap and eat up to 100 pounds of plankton that may be caught.

Species of baleen whales include Blue whales, Fin whales, Humpback whales, Gray whales, and Right whales.

Toothed whales

Most toothed whales are smaller than the baleen whales. They have teeth and live on fish, squids, and other sea creatures. They also use echo-location to find out about prey and determine their surroundings. Species of toothed whales include Beaked whales, Belugas, Pilot whales, and Sperm whales.

How big do whales grow?

The Blue whale, which is the largest animal in the world, grows up to 100 feet long and can weigh over 100 tons, or 99,800 kg. The Dwarf Sperm whale is the smallest whale and measures just eight feet in length.

Where do whales live?

Whales are found in oceans in different parts of the world. Many whales migrate from colder regions, where they feed, to warmer areas to give birth.

Why do whales blow water through their heads?

You might have seen whales on TV, and wondered why they blow water out of their heads. Well, whales have nostrils on top of their head, called blowholes. While swimming, when the whale surfaces, it breathes out air. This air contains vapour, which makes it look like water. Immediately after blowing out the air, the whale takes in a fresh breath of air. Baleen whales have two blowholes, while toothed whales have only one.

What are whale songs?

Whales communicate in the water by making sounds that are described as whale songs. These songs often consist of regular patterns and may be up to 30 minutes long. Whales sing to call mates and communicate with their young. In certain cases, such as the Humpback whales, these songs can be very complex. People who have heard them say that whale songs sound eerie and haunting.

How do whales reproduce?

Like all mammals, whales give birth to live young. The young one of a whale is called a calf. The calves drink their mother's milk. Some whale species give birth after nine months of pregnancy, which is the same as in humans. In others, the period of pregnancy can be as long as 18 months. Most whales give birth once in every one to three years. The calf is lovingly looked after and protected by the mother for a year or sometimes longer.

What is the relationship between whales and man?

Since many centuries, whales have been hunted and killed for their oil and meat. Sperm whales were hunted to get ambergris, a substance found in their intestine, which was used to make perfume. As a result of this indiscriminate killing, many whales are severely endangered.

Today, People's attitudes have changed as they are discovering that whales are more valuable alive than dead, and whale watching has become a very popular tourist activity in some countries.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC), an international body created to regulate whaling, has declared a halt to all forms of commercial whaling. This does not include whaling for scientific research or traditional whaling by certain aboriginal people. However, some countries with an interest in whaling are demanding the relaxation of the IWC's ban on commercial whaling. The restrictions are not binding on countries that are not members of the IWC.

Do whales fascinate you? Do you think it is permissible to kill whales for their commercial value? Do you think the ban on whaling should be relaxed? To share ideas or opinions, click here.

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