A new study shows that blue whales have an active interest in keeping as much weight as possible, and they have a fascinating way of doing so.
One of the most noted behaviors of blue whale feeding, also exhibited by other baleen whales like humpbacks and right whales, is called lunge feeding. When performing this maneuver, a while speeds up towards a school of prey and opens its mouth. The undersides of these whales’ mouths can stretch along ridges to take in enough water to make up nearly 130 percent of its own weight.
Blue whales spend a lot of their time in the open ocean, so when prey is abundant they gorge. On average, a blue whale eats roughly four tons of krill per day. They are the loudest animal known to man, and can produce a low-frequency hum of over 188 decibels. This is louder than most jet engines, and can travel hundreds of miles through open water to communicate with other whales.
Blue whales have faced considerable pressure from whaling ships over the last century, and they are currently listed as endangered. While not as rare as some whale species, there are currently only about 10,000 individuals in the world’s oceans. Commercial whaling was officially banned in 1966, but whalers from the former Soviet Union continued to place pressure on whale populations for years following the ban.
The whale can reach lengths of 30 meters and weigh about 165 tons. Today, they face risks posed by ships, which can slash them with their propellers or scare them away from feeding and mating grounds by creating too much noise.
Blue whales also face threats from human activities that change the makeup of the ocean. Climate change has been linked to a disruption of many of the ocean-wide currents that these whales depend upon, which negatively affects their habitat. Pollution from industrial activity and commercial fishing nets pose equal threats to the well being of blue whales.
Current conservation efforts are primarily focused on preserving feeding areas for blue whales, such as the Gulf of Corcovado in southern Chile. This area has many additional commercial applications like salmon farming, and conservationists are doing their best to manage these interests alongside the right choices for the whale population.
On a policy level, the International Whaling commission holds the responsibility of making sure that threats from whalers, commercial ships, climate change, and commercial fishermen remain at a minimum. Whaling remains illegal in the majority of the world’s oceans, and the largest challenge is creating data-driven measures that actually protect the health of the whales’ food sources.
Whales need to be able to access their prey in order to mate and ultimately reproduce. They are some of the most important creatures in the ocean, and their position at the top of the food chain is indicative of the health of the marine ecosystem as a whole.
Without the ability to store enough energy to make the long trips between the world’s feeding and breeding grounds, we may continue to see blue whales’ numbers decline.