Ever wonder what it’s like to chase a whale . . . and poke it with a stick? A group of spunky researchers found out. Doing so helped them gain extraordinary knowledge about whales and their diets.
All whales are big, but the blue whale is the biggest animal God made—even larger than the most ginormous known dinosaur. (For more about blue whales, see “Whale Bones Resurface.”) Blue whales grow to about 100 feet long and weigh more than 200,000 pounds! They have no teeth. Instead, God gave them sieve-like filters called baleen plates.
Sperm whales are the biggest whale species with teeth. Each tooth is four to eight inches long. These whales stretch about 60 feet long and weigh about 100,000 pounds.
Scientists wondered why some whale species get larger than others. Researchers from the American Cetacean (marine mammal) Society chased down 300 whales. They used long poles and suction cups to attach sensors to the creatures.
It wasn’t easy. “You try to go out and put a tiny tag on the back of the biggest animal in the world,” says Terrie Williams of the University of California, Santa Cruz. The sensors allowed researchers to record the animals’ eating habits like never before.
The study included 90 “filter-feeding” blue whales. A blue whale opens its jaws and engulfs an immense volume of water as it swims along. Then it closes its mouth and pushes the water out through its baleen. It makes a meal of the myriad tiny sea creatures left behind in its maw. The method requires little energy and “nets” a lot of food.
The study also included toothed sperm whales. These giants hunt and capture prey, one at a time. They seek squid, octopus, and other victims using a sonar-like detection system. The hunt often requires diving deep for a meal. Searching and attacking uses much more energy than the filter method.
Researchers believe the different feeding methods account for size variations. Even if a toothed whale consumes larger prey, it simply burns too many calories to grow as large as a filter feeder.
So why don’t blue whales get even bigger? Scientists guess that could be because large volumes of nutritious food in the form of tiny plankton aren’t available year-round. To grow bigger, a blue whale would require more of the minute ocean prey—and, says Nicholas Pyenson of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, “that is just not seen anywhere in the world.”
There’s another reason for the differences: God in His wisdom chose their size and designed their distinct feeding methods, just as He did for all creatures.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! — Job 38:4-5