These Magnificent Whales
Titans of the deepClick thumbnail to view full-size
Whales have put up with a lot
Whales… can you think of any other creature on the planet which has been loved by man, yet persecuted, in the case of several species, to the point of extinction, more than these wonderful close brothers of ours?
Man is the champion of the double standard, no doubt about that; he even imposes his whacky judgement on his fellows. Probably he can’t help it; evolution usually allows us to shift the blame to its broad shoulders for just about all our actions.
We adore the cute and cuddly and mistreat the unappealing. It’s not practical to cuddle whales - and anyone who has smelled their “breath” might be forgiven for shuddering - but they have brains bigger than ours, their own complex language, and many “human” characteristics, such as demonstrating love and caring for their young and often returning affectionate behaviour from fascinated whale-watchers. ( I saw a Gray Whale mum, in front of her calf, carefully surface under a terrified swimmer in Mexico and lazily sliding away caress him with a tail fluke that could just have easily broken every bone in his body with a powerful blow. They also lack our nasty side, at least most of it, such as jealousy, cruelty, unkindness, extreme murderous violence and all the rest which natural selection seems to have found necessary to hard-wire in humans so they may conquer the natural world, and, as the philosopher said, “fuck on regardless!”
What really amazes me is the way whales seem to have forgiven man for his murderous treatment of their species. Perhaps they realize that man can’t be beaten, so they get along to get along, as it were; yet whaling, the most brutal hunting ever seen on the planet, still continues with countries such as Japan and New Zealand, etc. (see below) taking their “quota” of the leviathans - and more - routinely disregarding the international protests. Perhaps the whale is just thinking what any extremely intelligent creatures would and realizing logically there is no way to win against man. Any real hostility on their part - Moby Dick notwithstanding - would have the mad egotist, man, using ever more powerful weapons against them: cluster-bombing them, or employing “smart bombs” or even sending Lawd Peter Mandleson to take them on…that would learn ‘em, look what he did to Britain! And as some whales seem to be able to communicate using sub-sonic “song” for thousands of miles under the surface of the oceans, perhaps all the way around the world, so man’s crazed doings are no secret to these intelligent giants.
As we are seen to have come from the sea, whales - and brothers dolphins and porpoises - began their own evolution as land animals called “mesonychids.” These strange, rather wolf-like creatures had fur, tails and hooves and are also in the ancestry of hippos and deer. They were living about 55 million years ago. Their long development into becoming streamlined mammals called whales, etc., might have begun when the Mediterranean Sea began to expand, changing their terrain into a large body of water - but this is only my own theory. Many of the bones of whales still confirm to what have been foot, paw, hind quarters and other bones of their ancient ancestors.
Evolution took about 10 million years to modify the mesonychids into becoming real whale-like creatures. Evolution does take a while to perform its miracles, which is why I am both amused and infuriated each time I hear a government spinner tell us seriously on Sky News or BBC Breakfast (employers of the pretty, but mentally challenged) that man now lives 10 or 20 years longer than he did 50 years ago! Said with a straight face! Just so they can justify repeatedly raising the age when they have to pay us this annoying state pension! Well you don’t have to be a whale to see through this nonsense.
These first whales spread over the planet; their fossilized remains have been found in many locations and they lasted some 15 to 20 million years before the modern whales and the rest took over about 30 million years ago. The families we share the planet with today were all firmly established 5 to 10 million years ago while the first harpooner was still swinging in a monkey’s bollocks, not to put too fine - nor scientific - point on it.
People are usually surprised to find out that the few whales and dolphins which do get publicity are just the tip of the iceberg and that there are about 85 recognized species, and marine biologists suspect there may still be more we haven’t discover yet. That’s still a might big ‘oggin out there!
The whale family are the Cetacea. These are divided into Toothed Whales, Dolphins and Porpoise - the Odonticetti - which are predators. And the Baleen Whales - the Mysticeti - which eat mainly Krill and other small organisms, which they filter through the Baleen in their huge mouths.
The toothed whales include the Sperm, Killer (Orcas), Pilot, Beluga; the dolphins and porpoise.
The Baleens include Blue, Humpback, Bowhead, Grey, the Right Whales, and the Minke Whales along with several minor species.
The mighty Blue Whale is the largest creature that has lived on Earth - and how miraculously fortunate we are to still have this extraordinary mammal still with us. We have records of Blues up to 115 feet long and 150 tons in weight. A Blue Whale of this size needs to eat as much protein as the weight of a mature African Elephant each and every day. Larger ones are sure to have roamed the oceans.
The Sperm Whale, or “Cachalot,” is the largest of the toothed whales and one of the planet’s fiercest predators. At up to 70 feet long and more than 50 tons in weight, if it roamed the surface, it would take on the aspect of a Tyrannosaurus for sure and we would have to destroy it. The Sperm can dive to 10,000 feet! deeper and for longer than any other whale where it feeds on huge squid, the so called “Colossal Squid” sharks and other fish it can catch. There are said to be ferocious underwater battles between the Sperm and some giant squid as long as the whale itself; these conflicts have not been observed, but the scars on the Sperm’s head can be attributed to the teeth of the squid. Squids are no push-over (see my hub) even the smaller Humboldt: these huge, never seen deepwater squid and octopi must be difficult opponents, even for the killing machine that is this large whale. The Sperm is known for its production of ambergris, which is a defensive extrusion in the stomach of the whale to cover the sharp beaks of the squid it has devoured.
The Humpback Whale has perhaps the strongest “song.” It has been measured as having 20,000 watts of sound.
Whales of course, as do all mammals, have warm blood, body hair and suckle their young with milk. They are also the closest relative of the Hippopotamus, although this ill-tempered chap seems to lack the placidity of his larger brothers. Perhaps he’s thinking, “Piss off, Jack, I’m wise to your game, you ain’t gonna stick a bloody harpoon in me.”
The Orca Gladiator, or Killer Whale.. The best known of all the whales due to it’s exciting predatory behaviour and the delicious fear that it may - occasionally - like a chew at our toes as well. Our mind-numbing cruelty as we capture one of these free swimming giants and imprison it in an exhibit, teaching it anthropomorphic nonsense like kissing some nearly nude “trainer,” or flapping its tail to get a fish thrown to it. No wonder they occasionally loose it and bite the head off one of their tormentors.
(I would like to state now that I am completely against any marine mammal being imprisoned in any kind of aquaria or “dolphinareum,” etc. I am pleased to see many countries, including Mexico, now agree and are forbidding the capture of dolphins in their territorial waters).
Orcas are very communal and live in “clans,” which contain several “pods,” each pod made up of a number of “matrilineal groups” These large clans may contain up to 100 individuals and stay together always.
The so-called Killer (named because it was seen feeding on a dead whale 200 years ago, not because of attacks on man..ughhh horrible taste: booze, tobacco, bad diet…give me a nice fresh fish!) is widespread, found in all the oceans at all and any temperatures. They have been seen exploding through pack ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. They like seals and sea-lions, exhibiting what seems to be rather cruel, cat-like behaviour with the former, throwing them up in the air, etc., before administering the coup de grace - but that might only be our interpretation of why they do this. Perhaps when a terrified seal has a hold of your upper lip, for example, you would throw it up in the air in order to get a better control of it.
Some whales do have one ability which, having watch the mind-numbing dedication of the Aussie swimming team in India this week, I would like to pass on as a tip to male members. While travelling fast through the water, the male whale can retract its testicles into its body to help with streamlining. By the look of the lunch-boxes on some of the champions at the Commonwealth Games, it seems they might be able to appreciably increase their speed through the water by somehow employing this tactic. Though where they would store the spheroids might be a problem. As a Brit. seeing our lads being soundly thrashed by the Antipodean Warriors. I might suggest they “Stick ‘em up their a--” but that would be unkind…so would advising castration, I suppose.
Whales do have many so-called “human characteristics.” They grieve a dying companion or their young, they both teach and learn the ways of whale survival, they scheme and cooperate. Whales “never sleep.” That is, like the dolphins, only one hemisphere of their brain sleeps at once, leaving the other to control breathing, etc. They live for a very long time: Humpbacks have been confirmed at living 70 to 100 years and some evidence exists that certain Bowhead Whales have exceeded 200 years.
They still don’t get complete relief from man’s predation. As well as the above named countries still murdering whales - for that is exactly what it is - Iceland insists on whaling, so does Norway. And Canada, Alaska, Russia (Siberia) allows their indigent populations to take whales. Dolphins are killed in the thousands, despite all the best efforts of concerned fishermen and ecologists to make the tackle safe. Ship’s propellers maim and kill. There is increasing evidence that naval sonar is fatal to some whales, destroying their own navigation sense and causing the many pitiful “beachings” we see. But at least most of us are enlightened these days - for the moment.