This summary provides a brief examination of the biology of whales, including habitat, reproductive cycles, and feeding.
Whales are mammals and, along with dolphins, they belong to the order ceteacea. Like other mammals, whales are warm-blooded, breathe air, bear live young and nurse them with milk. Their adaptations for aquatic life include a thick layer of blubber, which insulates them from cold and provides buoyancy.
There are two sub-orders of whales. The first class, baleen whales, includes humpback, gray, and blue whales. Instead of teeth, baleen whales have brush like sheets of a horny material called baleen, or whalebone, edging the roof of the mouth. They feed by opening their mouths and taking in large quantities of water. The baleen plates serve as a strainer for the food, which includes small fish. Baleen whales only feed half the year in their summer feeding grounds. They migrate to find food, breed and have young.
The second sub-order, toothed whales, includes sperm and killer whales. These whales are carnivores and, as their name implies, have teeth rather than baleen plates. They feed all year round and do not typically migrate.
Along with feeding differences, baleen and toothed whales’ blowholes also differ. Whales’ nostrils are located on the top of their head, creating a blowhole, which allows them to effectively come to the surface for air. The baleen whales’ blowhole has two openings, while the toothed whales have a blowhole with a single opening.
Most whales live in social groups called pods, which consist of family members and family friends. Whales live in these pods their whole life. Whales talk to each other by making high-pitched sounds. They have a highly developed hearing system. An internal system of air sinuses and bones detect sounds.
A female whale gives birth to a single calf every 2-3 years. Gestation periods range from 9.5 to 17 months. The newborn calf is pushed to the surface by the mother and is able to swim almost immediately.
Whales are believed to be extremely intelligent. Studies reveal whales to be thinking creatures with mental abilities that may equal or surpass human intellect. The portion of the whale’s cerebral cortex devoted to memory and conceptual thought is much larger than that of the human brain.