I recently experienced my first ever whale watching tour. This close encounter with the ‘large’ kind got me thinking…are we really that different?
With the help of my friend Google I discovered that humans and whales have a great deal in common.
Firstly, our communication. Both humans and whales are a noisy bunch. Just like humans, whales have various forms of communicating – and can be heard almost constantly! Our whale counterparts have been known to moan, groan, click and even sing. That sounds a lot like my husband first thing in the morning! Interestingly too, different whale pods have different forms of communication and even create their own terminology (ie language) across different locations in the world. But the blue whales take the cake when it comes to volume (even beating the Soccer World Cup ‘vuvuzela’). Whales are the loudest animals ever recorded coming in louder than a jet engine (188 dB vs jet engine’s 140 dB)!
The most obvious similarity between humans and whales is that we’re both mammals (breathe air, warm blooded, carry young, have a vertebrate etc). Something I bet you didn’t know though is that whales have hair too! Hard to believe but true. Baby whales have a thin, light layer of hair which slowly disappears as they get older and develop more blubber. Less hair and more blubber – sound familiar?
Because we’re all mammals, we can’t breathe underwater. We all need to come up for air from time to time and our large friends are no different. Whales need to visit the surface regularly for a breath of fresh air. The longest recorded time that a whale has held its breath underwater is 2hrs (sperm whale), the longest recorded time for a human is 11 minutes and 35 seconds (Stephanes Mifsud, freediving record).
It has been calculated that a single breath from a mature blue whale can inflate up to 2000 balloons! And while we’re on random facts, the spray from a blue whale’s blowhole is almost as tall as a three-storey building (30 feet or 9 m). This same blowhole is so large that a toddler could fit inside. Incredible!
Speaking of toddlers, it probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to hear that just like humans, female whales mature faster than males. That’s right, male whales mature between 7 to 10 years of age. Female maturity occurs about 5 to 7 years of age.
And just like humans, whales are very social creatures. There’s a very definite hierarchy (just like in most human homes and businesses) and they live together in pods, doing almost everything together including hunting, migrating and supporting the young.
We’re all foodies. Ok, so we might not consume quite as much as a whale per day (even polar bears have been found in whale’s stomachs) but we humans certainly like our food. And, like whales, we spend a number of months eating, and subsequently building up our blubber (for us it’s usually winter though). Whales spend the warmer months eating to ensure they have enough blubber to make the long migration to warmer waters. A single adult eats about 4 tons of krill (tiny shrimplike animals) a day and can weigh up to 200 tons! That’s about 8 DC-9 aircrafts or 15 school buses! Their tongue alone weighs as much as an elephant!
And lastly, whales are emotional too. A recent study found that whales, like humans, have the ability to experience love and also deep-rooted emotional suffering. Whales have even been seen to ‘mourn’ the death of a fellow whale.
So next time you’re out on a whale watching adventure remember, we’re really not that different – they’re noisy, hairy, hungry, social creatures apt to a good cry just like us.