By Angelica Hernandez
When we think of the largest animals in the ocean, a few pictures may come to mind. Images of giant squids, great white sharks, and even of mythological creatures like the infamous Kraken might cross our minds. In the end, however, author Herman Melville was a little closer to the truth while writing about his great while whale in Moby Dick. The largest animal in the ocean is, in fact, a whale, just a different color than Melville’s legendary white whale. The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is part of the baleen family of whales and it is not just the largest animal in the ocean, it is believed to be the largest animal to have ever existed.
This giant of the ocean can grow to more than 100 feet (30 meters) in length and weigh close to 200 tons. Average adults blue whales are between 70 to 90 feet (23 to 27 meters) in length and weigh between 100 to 150 tons. That is approximately the same length as two city buses parked end-to-end. Females tend to be approximately 30 feet (10 meters) longer than males. Blue whale offspring are the largest newborns in the world. Gestation for a blue whale calf is just a few weeks longer than a human, lasting 10 to 11 months, and upon birth an average calf will be 25 feet long (8 meters) and weight approximately 4 tons.
The blue whale feeds almost exclusively on small crustaceans known as krill that are only about 2 inches long. Small fish and even squid are sometimes accidentally caught and eaten along with the krill; however, krill constitutes the bulk of the blue whale’s diet. Blue whales will eat almost 8,000 pounds (3,600 kilograms) of krill during the height of summer feeding season, consuming 40 million krill per day to maintain its weight.
Unfortunately due to the hunting advances of the 20th century such as harpoon cannons, blue whales became endangered. They were hunted for the high amount of blubber content, which can be used in products like make-up. Today, it is a protected species worldwide and appears to be bouncing back. However, it’s a long road to recovery and they continue to be threatened by new enemies like global warming. As the ice in the poles begins to melt, it affects the temperature of ocean currents, which in turn affects the whales’ migration patterns. It is important, therefore, to continue our efforts to protect the ocean and our planet to help magnificent species, such as this blue giant, live on.