Tailing a Whale Vs Wagging a Tail: Whale Fun Facts & Endangerment Status
What a Scent!
So you know that blue whales are the largest animal on Earth, but did you know that some expensive perfumes use whale poop? Sperm whales produce a rare and special kind of waste called ambergris: a clump of squid beaks and fatty secretions. When fresh, it's quite odorous, literally smelling of marine faeces; however, over time, it acquires a sweet, earthy scent, which only enhances with age. Therefore, ambergris is used in perfumes because of the ambrien chemical it contains, with benefits including a unique fragrance and dissolving existing scents in the air.
Do you want to guess how much one pound of ambergris can be sold for? Over $7,000 - that's thirty times more than silver (at least in 2019)!
When it's fresh, ambergris is quite odorous, literally smelling of marine faeces; however, over time, it acquires a sweet, earthy scent, which only enhances with age.
Well, moving on, let's swim through some facts about whales:
- Normally swim alone,
- Don't have teeth!
- Consume over 3,000kg of krill daily,
- Can swim 50km/h
- Only have two predators: the human and the orca aka killer whale
- Are the loudest animal on Earth - and an incredible sense of hearing to match!
- Have a seasonal migration pattern,
- Have been endangered since 1970.
- Have heads that take up a third of their entire body length!
- Also have squarish heads, filled with 'spermaceti'. We don't yet know its function, but it's suspected to regulate buoyancy.
- Have the largest brain of any creature known to inhabit Earth,
- Form groups called 'pods'.
- Have similar group patterns to elephants: the females and children form pods, with males travelling solo or from pod to pod
- Classified as vulnerable.
- Are stark white, and thus easily recognisable,
- Are super social: their pods can include hundreds of whales!
- Can change the shape of their forehead!
- Can live between 35 and 50 years,
- Can achieve dives bordering on 25 minutes and reaching 800 metres in depth!
- Are named after the Russian word for white: 'bielo', though the whales are born dark grey. It can take 8 years for them to turn stark white.
- Are classified as Near Threatened.
So, what threatens whales?
Changing sea temperatures and seawater freshness are among the effects of climate change. Increased rates of ice melting and rainfall, alongside rising sea levels, make it harder for whales to find food on icy polar habitats. The beluga whale, especially, relies on the ice for food, as well as seals and polar bears. So it supports the ecosystem. Reduced ice causes a domino effect, where there's less room for algae to grow, thus for microorganisms to eat, and then the rest of the food chain.
Sea ice also works as a temporary protection mechanism from orca whales. Since belugas lack a dorsal fin, they can hide up beneath and around the ice, whereas orcas can't because they risk damaging their back appendage getting caught within thick ice.
For centuries, humans have hunted for whale oil for lamps, fuel, and lubrication products - from margarine to lipstick to machine oil. Thanks to modern technology, though, hunting whales for these purposes has reduced in recent decades. Although, in some regions, whale meat is a luxury product and so whaling continues in the modern-day. Not to mention getting accidentally caught in fishing nets can cause suffocation or other damage to whales. It's estimated that entanglement in fishing gear kills over 300,000 whales and dolphins annually.
Threatened by climate change, oil and gas development, industrial and urban pollution, as well as polar bears and orca whales.
Oil and industrial developments have been found to cause considerable damage to whales: Blasting was used in constructing oil installations in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1992. The humpback whales found just off the area had damaged ear structures. On top of this, the oil industry in Alaska required seismic testing, and the nearby whales also suffered from hearing damage as a result.
Oil spills release toxins in the oceans, damaging marine life, and offsetting natural ecosystems, bringing both indirect and direct harm to the health of whales around the world.
How can we save whales?
We donate 10% of profits on our Save the Whales socks to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, which aims to end captivity, eliminate whaling, create healthy seas and prevent deaths in nets. As such, it invests in rescue, research, education and conservation projects globally. The charity has several success stories of rescued and protected whales (and dolphins!), from creating marine protected areas to lobbying for protective legislation on the sea.
Together, we can save more whales!