The Largest Animal That’s Ever Lived
When comes to largest, heaviest, and biggest—and loudest—the blue whale has no equal in the animal kingdom.
In terms of sheer size, nothing on Earth, now or even in the prehistoric past, can match the blue whale. A few dinosaurs may have come close, but so far as we know, the blue whale is the largest creature that’s ever lived.
(If you think about the physics of anatomy, the maximum size sea of a sea creature, whose body is supported by water, is almost always going to be larger than the largest possible land animal.)
Because the blue whale is so large and difficult to weigh and measure, and because the largest whales were killed during the early years of whaling, there’s not always agreement about the ultimate dimensions of the blue whale . What’s clear, is that the animal is huge!
Here is what natural David Attenborough has to say about the blue whale in the amazing BBC video series The Blue Planet:
The Blue Whale’s Incredible Dimensions
Blue whales typically reach lengths of 80 to 85 ft. The record length is held by a female blue whale that was 110 ft long! That’s 18 scuba divers in a row, including their flippers!
Blue whale typically weigh 120-128 tons. This means the average blue whale weighs as much as 26 five-ton African bull elephants! Imagine, one animal weighing more than a herd of elephants! The largest blue on record is a stunning 200 tons.
The Blue Whale’s Amazing Anatomy
One of the most remarkable organs of the blue whale is its heart. Imagine a heart about the size of a Mini Cooper car and weighing 1,300 pounds! You could actually crawl through the aorta, as this fiberglass model shows:
This enormous muscle pumps 14,000 pounds of blood through the whale’s body, and yet this great heart beats only about 10 times a minute. Imagine the volume of each pump of blood!
The blue whale’s tongue is also enormous—fifty people could stand on it, and it weighs about 3 to 4 tons. The blue whales mouth can expand hold a 100 tons of water, and 100 people could be stuffed inside it.
Blue whales eat a LOT!
The blue whale lives mainly on little one-half inch-long sea crustaceans called krill. Because krill are so small, the blue whale has to eat a lot of them. I mean a lot! In one day, an adult blue whale can eat up to 40 million krill, which can add up to nearly 8,000 pounds of krill a day.
A baby blue whale, or cow, drinks approximately 130-150 gallons of milk each day. On the mother’s incredibly rich milk, the cow, which is the weight of a large hippo at birth, can gain nearly 10 pounds a hour and over 200 pounds every day!
And blue whales are LOUD!
The blue whale is by far the loudest animal on earth. How loud? Consider this: a jet plane on take-off produces around 140 dB (decibels) of sound (a decibel is a logarithmic unit of measurement of sound.) The blue whale call has been measured at 188 decibels.
Keep in mind that each 10 dB increase means that the sound is 10 times as loud, e.g. a 70 dB sound is 10 times more powerful than 60 dB sound. That means the blue whale’s call is a nearly a hundred-thousand times more powerful than the sound of a jet plane taking off!
No wonder that some theoretical calculations by Roger Payne and Douglas Webb (from the 1970’s) predicted that the loudest whale sounds might be transmitted across an entire ocean!
Let’s protect this amazing creature
Like many other whale species, the blue whale was heading rapidly toward extinction because of whaling. Thankfully, blue whale hunting was banned in the 1960s by the International Whaling Commission and illegal whaling by the USSR finally halted in the 1970s. It was just in time. By some estimates, 330,000 blue whales had been killed in the Antarctic, 33,000 in the Southern Hemisphere, 8,200 in the North Pacific, and 7,000 in the North Atlantic.
Today, the blue whale remains an endangered species, although it appears the population may have stabilized or be slightly increasing in some areas. The decimation of whales species around the world is one of the great ecological disasters of the 20th century. Some species are gone and others are still on the brink.
Is this the only blue whale we want future generations can see?
The blue whale lives nowhere else in the known universe. What a tragedy it would be for our children and for future generations if the largest animals that ever lived on Earth were to become extinc
We owe it to our future, and to the Earth, to be better stewards of our planet. And we owe it to the amazing animals that, in all the great immensity of space and time, share this “pale blue dot” with us.