National Geographic : 1940 Jan
WHALES, GIANTS OF THE SEA Wonder Mammals, Biggest Creatures of All Time, Show Tender Affection for Young, But Can Maim or Swallow Human Hunters BY REMINGTON KELLOGG United States National Museum T E mightiest mammal that ever lived on our planet is a whale. Some of the great Blue Whales, which may weigh 115 tons or more, would equal in length and far surpass in weight even the gigantic extinct dinosaurs, which were not mammals but reptiles (pages 57 and 68). Other facts about the whale are as amaz ing as its size. The largest type of whale in existence, sometimes 100 feet long, can swallow nothing larger than a herring, and lives mostly on shrimplike creatures no big ger than grasshoppers. Though it looks like a fish and can live only in water, the whale would drown like any land animal if it could not come up frequently to breathe, and it suckles its young on milk which is not essentially dif ferent from cow's milk. Wounded whales sometimes are so fero cious that they have stove in and sunk small ships in their charges; yet many female whales seem almost human in their affection for, and defense of, their calves. Dolphins, or porpoises, though smaller, belong to the same class of animals as whales, for they, too, breathe air and suckle their young. The two types are known col lectively as cetaceans, and will be described together in this article. There are two main kinds of whales, dis tinguished chiefly by their equipment for eating-the toothed whales and the "whale bone" or baleen whales. Toothed whales have teeth in the lower jaws or in both. WHALE COULD HAVE SWALLOWED JONAH Larger toothed whales, such as the Sperm and Killer, have throats big enough to swal low almost anything that lives in the sea, including giant squids,* seals, and sharks. These whales could swallow a man, but even if he were not bitten in half he could not long survive the action of the powerful gastric juices. All dolphins and porpoises have at least a few teeth in their jaws and capture living prey such as fish and squids. The baleen whales, on the other hand, have no teeth, and their throats are only a few inches in diameter. Instead of teeth, they are equipped with whalebone, or ba leen, which hangs down from either side of the upper jaws in long strips, with hairlike bristles on the inner edges. The whale swims with open mouth through thick masses of small shrimplike crustaceans that live near the surface. When its mouth is full the whale closes it. Then, with its huge tongue, it forces the water out at the sides through the strips of baleen (page 37). This acts like a sieve, retaining the food, which is thereupon swal lowed. A large baleen whale may eat sev eral barrels of such food in a day. Toothed whales have only one blowhole, or nostril; baleen whales have two. MACHINE AGE IMPERILS SUPPLY Whales once roamed by the millions in the oceans of the world, but today they may be heading toward the same fate that pur sued the once-vast herds of American buf falo. Three-quarters of a million whales have been killed since 1900. Today whales are hunted with harpoons shot from cannon, and the carcasses are processed at sea on huge "factory ships" equipped to reduce them quickly to oil and other products (pages 66, 67, 70). As a result of these improved methods of pur suit and handling, as well as the discovery of new uses for whale oil in such things as margarine and soap, the search for whales is now more active than ever before. It was only about 300 years ago that naturalists discovered that whales and other cetaceans are not fishes, but are related to * See "Marauders of the Sea," by Roy Waldo Miner, with 8 paintings of squids and octopuses, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1935. The remarkable series of 31 paintings by Else Bostelmann accompanying this article is the first complete set of full-color pictures of the better-known whales, dolphins, and porpoises to be printed.- Editor.