The Whales have long been revered in many cultures. Even today they are still surrounded by myths. The baleen whale is very impressive with its gigantic body and the smaller whales with their elegance and curiosity. Whales are mammals that have taken a step back during evolution.
How they can survive in the oceans is not yet entirely clear. Whales are difficult to observe, which is probably also the reason for the many myths and legends.
The scientific collective name for whales and dolphins is Cetacea and has its origins in Greek mythology. Whales are real sea behemoths, the bible also talks about the sea monster that swallowed the prophet Jonas and spat it out again after three days and nights. In Luther’s translation, they speak of the whale, which is not really a good name, because it is a mammal.
Legends Of Antiquity
Even in ancient times, there were reports of the miraculous help that dolphins would give. The ancient Greeks, therefore, revered them, they saw them as protectors of the travelers. Whales and dolphins were also sacred in other cultures. The Maori saw the whale as the ancestor of all species.
Legend has it that the first tribesman rode to New Zealand on the back of a whale. Some Northwestern American Indian tribes also idolized whales, especially the killer whale. The Kwakiutl saw killer whales as powerful, supernatural creatures. Other tribes believed that deceased chiefs came back as killer whales.
The whale myth was immortalized in the mid-nineteenth century in the novel Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. In the book, whaling ship captain Ahab and his crew were on a hunt for the white whale that had once bitten off a leg. The remarkable novel about the fight between whale and man marks the beginning of literary modern literature and is now even one of the classics of world literature. The story has been filmed several times in Hollywood.
Baleen whales belong to one of the two subspecies of the Cetacea. All baleen whales are gigantic in size, even the smallest ones are more than six meters long. The largest is the blue whale. With its length of more than 30 meters, it can be as long as a medium-sized airliner. However, it is two to three times as heavy. This makes the blue whale the largest animal that has ever lived on Earth.
Baleen whales get their name from their baleen, which sits in their upper jaws instead of teeth. Baleen is more than a hundred fibrous horn plates, which can reach several meters in length. With this, whales simply filter their food from the water. They take about 80 tons of seawater in one go into their gigantic mouths and squeeze it out through the baleens, on which small sea creatures get stuck.
Long On The Road
Almost all larger whales undertake long journeys. Many baleen whales have a preference for planktonic crustaceans. Huge numbers of lobsters appear in the polar seas every summer. To be there exactly when the crustaceans are there, the baleen whale travels very great distances, the gray whale,
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for example, as much as 10,000 km per year. Whales cannot stay in the north for long, because the water there is too cold for the giants. They, therefore, winter on the Mexican coast, where they also give birth to their offspring.
Toothed whales belong to the second subspecies of Cetacea. They do have teeth in their mouths and use them to kill their prey. These are usually fish or sometimes other marine mammals. Most toothed whales are clearly smaller than the giant baleen whale.
They are about the same length as the sperm whale, about 60 feet. All toothed whales have a special way of observing things, which is called echo sounding. Like bats, they can orient themselves by emitting echo signals. Toothed whales also have a large repertoire of sounds. Most animals communicate a lot with each other and also live in groups of permanent members.
Toothed whales are a multifarious group. Of all (more than) 80 whale species, 70 of them belong to the toothed whales. A particularly large family among the toothed whales are the dolphins, they comprise almost half of all whale species. Perhaps that is why the dolphin is always mentioned separately from the whale.
In addition to the species with the long snout, as they are known in the dolphinarium, film, or TV, there are also many other species of dolphins that are not so well known. The orca, for example, also belongs to the dolphins, just like the pilot whale.
The whale is a descendant of land-dwelling mammals and is related to the hippopotamus. How they returned to the water was a mystery for a long time. Only after spectacular fossil finds in recent years did more become clear. The transition from land to sea took about ten million years. Originally, the whale descended from the cloven-hoofed animals, which,
in addition to the whale and hippos, also include pigs, goats, camels, and sheep. The first ancestor, even closer, was the Pakicetus, a four-legged, fox- or wolf-sized predator. Fifty million years ago, it lived on the Southeast Asian coast, presumably largely on land. Outwardly he looked more like a rat than a modern whale.
As a link between the land and aquatic animals, there is a fine of 46 million years old.
This was a Rhodhocetus. On land, this animal could no longer move properly, because its legs had changed into a kind of fins. About 42 million years ago, the Basilusauridae appeared, capping off the development of terrestrial and aquatic mammals. They were completely adapted to life in the water. With their shriveled legs and half-turned nostrils, they already looked like a whale. About 35 million years ago, these animals split into two groups, the baleen, and the toothed whales.
Although people have long had an interest in the whale, little is known about these animals. Whales are difficult to observe. They spend most of their lives far below the surface of the water, where they are almost impossible to see with the naked eye or camera. That is why they are usually ‘eavesdropped’. Underwater microphones, the so-called Hydrophoons, can be used to record the sounds of these animals underwater.
To record for long periods of time, scientists attach small measuring equipment to the animals, which show all movements via GPS. Some of these devices have a transmitter, which transmits the data to a satellite after surfacing.
This way you do not have to search for the discarded measuring equipment. If researchers shoot the surfaced whales with a special arrow, they can take tissue samples from a distance. Genetic studies provide a definite answer about where they come from and what they eat.
It is not certain which and how many whales live in certain areas. Many researchers recognize certain whales by their tail fins. Databases keep track of markings, such as scratches, patterns, and the shape of the tail fin. By comparing with photos, researchers can then see whether these are new or already registered specimens.
Because whales spread over large areas, it is often unknown how many individuals of a particular species are still alive. The stock sizes of all whale species can only be roughly estimated. Ships and planes search the seas where whales are suspected. From these samples, an attempt is made to estimate how large the whale stock should be.