Amazing Facts About Whales!


[MUSIC] Are dolphins your porpoise for living? Think
orcas are killer? Maybe you start blubbering when you think of belugas? That’s no fluke.
Whales are one of the coolest groups of animals on Earth, with so many specialized features
that they might as well be from space. If you’re looking for some of the most mind-blowing
facts about these awesome marine mammals, whale whale whale… you’ve come to the
right place. [MUSIC] When we say “whales”, we’re talking
about the order of animals called cetaceans, which are further divided into two subgroups,
toothed whales and baleen whales. Despite living their whole lives in the water,
whales are in fact mammals. They give birth to live young, they nurse with milk, and they’re
warm-blooded. They even have hair! Before they’re born, whales are covered in a layer
of fuzz called lanugo, and some even keep hair as adults. Like all mammals and other tetrapods, whales
are descendants of ancient fish that crawled out of the water about 375 million years ago.
But for some reason, cetaceans turned around and crawled right back in the ocean. About
50 million years ago in what is now Pakistan, four-legged wolf-sized creatures began to
hunt in the water, and over time, evolution selected for traits that helped them in their
aquatic lifestyle. [MUSIC] Cetacean nostrils gradually migrated back
from their snout to on top of their head, where we find them today. Baleen whales still
have two holes up there, while toothed whales only have one blowhole. Because whales descended from animals with
limbs under their bodies, their backbones don’t naturally bend side to side, but rather
up and down. That’s why their tail fins are horizontal, instead vertical like fish!
And even though they no longer have hind limbs, their hips aren’t completely gone in some
species. Vestigial pelvic bones are now used to anchor the penises of male whales.
Okay then… Since they evolved from land mammals, it’s
no surprise that whales still have ears, but because of their deep-diving lifestyle they
no longer have these floppy things to funnel sound, and their ear canals are no longer
open to the outside. But a lifetime’s worth of earwax still builds up inside. Scientists
can harvest these ear plugs from dead whales and use em to study the diet and hormone levels
every year the whale was alive, just like really gross tree rings. Toothed whales like dolphins and sperm whales
use echolocation to hunt and navigate. Clicks made in the nasal passages are focused by
a mass of tissue in their foreheads called the melon, and fatty tissues in their lower
jaw pick up the returning echoes and deliver the vibrations to the inner ear. Baleen whales like humpbacks don’t use echolocation,
but are famous for their WHAAAAALE SOOOOONGS. “Spock, what do you make of that?” Humpback whale songs are incredibly complex,
with short phrases combined into themes that are mixed into songs, each lasting half an
hour or more. They’re like blubbery Beethovens! We’re still not exactly sure how whales
like humpbacks make those singing sounds, but scientists think they might use a big
sac under their vocal chords to squeeze air into the larynx, kind of like a bagpipe, and
then recycling it into their lungs so they don’t waste a breath. Whales are technically carnivores, and eat
just about every kind of animal there is in the ocean. Toothed whales like orcas, porpoises,
and sperm whales eat everything from fish to squid to seals, while baleen whales use
their bristly namesake to filter small animals like krill, plankton, and even fish from huge
gulps of water. When rorqual whales like humpbacks, fin whales,
and blue whales sense food ahead, their mouth opens almost 90 degrees and their split lower
jaw bone spreads wide like a fishing net. As they close their mouth, their giant tongue
squeezes the water out through the baleen filter, leaving tasty yum-yums behind. Other baleen whales like bowheads don’t
open their jaws as wide, but instead ram up to 3000 liters of water per second out the
corners of their mouth as they filter out dinner. No whale is as weird as the narwhal. Contrary
to popular belief, they are not unicorns wearing specially-designed SCUBA suits. Those huge
tusks, usually found only on males, are actually elongated canine teeth sticking right out
the front of their foreheads. They don’t have any teeth in their mouth, but those things
more than make up for it. No one agrees what the tusks are for, but some scientists say
it’s a sensory organ, while others say it’s just for males to attract females, but that
doesn’t really matter because they’re awesome. The Inuit even made harpoons out
of narwhal tusks tipped with iron from a meteorite! Are you kidding me? A blue whale can eat as much as four tons
of food in a day, and what goes in must come out. When it comes to poop, whales go big.
They often feed in the deep ocean, and their poop brings those nutrients up to the surface,
where they act as fertilizer for shallow ecosystems. It’s estimated that sperm whales and the
iron in their poop help sequester 200,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year
by fecally fertilizing photosynthetic plankton. Whales set some amazing records, too. The
deepest diving species, Cuvier’s beaked whale, has been tracked to 3,000 meters below
the surface! Some bowhead whales have been found with harpoons dating from the 19th century
still embedded in their bodies, leading scientists to estimate their lifespan at up to 200 years! Finally, like all animals, whales eventually
die. When whale carcasses, sometimes weighing more than a hundred tons, fall to the ocean’s
dark depths, they can form mini-ecosystems called “whale falls”, sustaining countless
deep-sea species for decades. Strange creatures like these “zombie worms” devour everything
from the blubber to the bones. Hope you enjoyed this fact-packed whale tale,
and that you didn’t mind my orca-sional bad puns.
Now, if you’re watching this right when it comes out, stay tuned because we’re bringing
you a week of amazing ocean-related videos from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. PBS and the
BBC are teaming up for an incredible three night event called Big Blue Live, where we’ll
be bringing you some of nature’s greatest ocean wonders right as they happen. I’ll
have a bunch of videos here on It’s Okay To Be Smart, as well as over on the PBS Facebook
page. We’ll be talking about more whales, otters, penguins, jellyfish, octopus, and
a few more surprises. I’ll put links to all that down below. You
can check out pbs.org/big-blue-live for more and I hope I’ll be seeing you from the Big
Blue. Stay curious!

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