This article is from
Creation 40(1):28–31, January 2018

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The Blue Whale

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blue-whale

The Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) may be the largest creature that has ever lived, on land or sea (see box p. 30). Its sheer size is astonishing; adults reach around 30 metres (100 feet) long and weigh some 170–180 tonnes (up to 200 short tons)—about the same as 30 large African elephants!

Big-hearted animal, but …

In 2015 a postmortem of a beached Blue Whale in Canada1 showed that many things commonly believed about the size of its organs are in error—likely because opportunities to measure and weigh them have been rare. A very common belief, repeated by many reputable sources, is that its heart is about as big as a small car (a VW ‘beetle’ is commonly mentioned) and weighs over half a tonne. The actual size is about that of a small fairground ‘bumper car’ for two, weighing about the same as a mid-size motorcycle—some 180 kg (400 lb). A replica of the whale’s heart on display at the Royal Ontario Museum stands about 1.5 m (5 ft) tall—still by far the largest heart known. Another widespread claim, that an adult human could swim through some of the whale’s arteries, is also incorrect; nonetheless, a human head could fit into its largest artery (aorta).

The Blue Whale’s ‘stats’ remain impressive. An adult whale’s mouth can hold some 90 tonnes of seawater, and its tongue alone weighs some 2.7 tonnes, more than three VW beetle cars.

The sound it emits, too (c. 190 decibels—jet engines only reach c. 140 dB), is huge; though not ‘loud’ in the sense of human perception, its low frequencies can travel underwater for many hundreds of kilometres. Surprisingly, it makes only the second ‘loudest’ sound in the animal kingdom (although it is the loudest sustained sound); the record belongs to the diminutive pistol shrimp, at over 200 dB.2

One might think that being the largest animal in the world, the Blue Whale would eat big things. But its throat is only about the diameter of a small dinner plate—some 23 cm (9 in). These cetaceans feed mostly on krill (a shrimplike crustacean averaging some 50 mm or 2 inches long), and to a lesser extent also on the much smaller crustaceans called copepods (mostly only 1 to 2 mm long). This whale is a ‘lunge feeder’, diving deep then accelerating its massive body to surge upwards with gaping mouth into a swarm of krill, which it then filters through its baleen (keratin plates).

It can take in almost two million kilojoules (half a million kilocalories) in one such big gulp! At certain times of year, a Blue Whale can consume nearly four tonnes of such food in a day. This lunge-feeding is probably the “largest biomechanical event on earth”, and uses a unique sensory organ that coordinates its jaw movement to avoid injury to the whale from the immense energies.3,4

Fast facts

  • The Blue Whale can reach speeds of up to 50 kph (30 mph) in short bursts, typically travelling at less than half of that, and slowing right down while feeding.
  • When migrating, Blue Whales can cover up to 450 kilometres (280 miles) in a day.
  • In 1966 the Pygmy Blue Whale, some 10–30% smaller than its cousin, was officially designated as a separate subspecies.
  • Blue Whales are among the world’s longest-lived animals. Scientists have estimated the age of one at 110 years, using something akin to growth rings in its ear wax; the average lifespan is around 80 to 90 years.

Relaxed diving

Since, like all mammals, the Blue Whale breathes air, it can only stay submerged for up to about 20 minutes. It is nonetheless a very capable diver. Like several other aquatic mammals, its lungs are designed to collapse progressively with the increasing pressure as it goes deeper, thus making it less and less buoyant, the deeper it goes. So unlike, say, a human swimmer who has to struggle hard to overcome his own buoyancy, after a few strong initial strokes to get it headed downwards, the whale can quickly and with relatively little effort ‘glide’ down this pressure/buoyancy gradient into the depths. When feeding, Blue Whales generally dive to less than 100 m (330 ft) before coming up to lunge-feed and breathe, but have been recorded diving as deep as 500 m (1,600 ft).

Origins

Since Blue Whales live in the sea, we know from Genesis that God created them on Day 5 of Creation Week along with all other water-dwelling life—one day before not just man, but also their alleged land mammal ancestors. This thwarts all attempts to try to reconcile the alleged long-age order of appearance with Genesis 1. Whales have always been whales, and they can only reproduce with others of their kind, the same as all other creatures (Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 25).

This raises the interesting question of how many separate whale kinds were made in Creation Week. We can’t know for certain, but it was less than the total number of whale species today, because some hybrids between different whale species are known. This shows that the differing species involved were both part of the same original kind. For example, a hybrid has been documented between a Blue Whale (Baleonoptera musculus) and a Fin Whale (Baleonoptera physalus).5 The process by which populations split into multiple species, based on the genetic information they already contain, is observable and well understood, but they always remain the same kind of creature; non-whales never give rise to whales.6

Evolutionary tales

In their explanation, evolutionists say that modern whales descended from land animals. Over millions of years legs allegedly turned to fins, a tail fluke arose, and their pelvises disappeared. And the teeth in one large group of whales (which includes Blue Whales) supposedly became baleen, enabling them to filter out small creatures from seawater—despite a general absence of support from the fossil record for any of this.7

There are small bones embedded in the tissues of the pelvic region of some whales, which evolutionists claim are the remnants of a pelvic girdle and/or hind limbs. However, these bones function as anchors for muscles used in reproduction, so they serve a useful purpose and aren’t useless evolutionary leftovers.8

Much like the even better known ‘horse series’ of alleged ancestors, an evolutionary series has been described for the whale, though it varies with the telling. It commonly begins with a creature called Pakicetus, which allegedly lived about 50 million years ago. Then it moves through a total of six to eight alleged ‘transitional’ forms, before reaching Aeticetus some 25 million years later. Among the best-known names in this ‘series’ are Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus.

A 2014 Creation article highlighted the dubious (some would say fraudulent) nature of much of this, based on Dr Carl Werner’s extensively documented research.9 The online version includes his videotaped interviews with evolutionary whale experts who make some crucial and damaging admissions.

Safety in size

No individual creature in the ocean is big enough to prey on the Blue Whale. Sometimes orcas (killer whales), acting in a pack, do so, attacking the whale repeatedly until it is too weak to flee. Successful attacks like this on an adult are, however, rare. More often, the orcas will try to separate a mother whale from its young calf, which is then relatively easy for the pack to overpower and eat. Nothing else hunts and kills the mighty Blue Whale—apart from man.

It is estimated that before organized whaling, the Blue Whale population was around 250,000. But with a huge commercial return in oil from just one such creature, whalers of the 19th and 20th centuries drove this majestic animal to the brink of extinction. In 1931 alone, nearly 30,000 were taken. In 1966 the International Whaling Commission finally banned the killing of Blue Whales, allowing some recovery; their numbers today are estimated at 10,000 to 14,000.

Most of us will never see a living Blue Whale in the ocean. Even so, we can appreciate and stand in awe of this largest of all animals, created by God and reflecting His glory and creative power.

blue-whale-compare-with-plane-elephant

Was there once a bigger animal?

While some of the largest dinosaurs ever may have been longer than a Blue Whale by a modest margin (head to tip of tail on reasonable estimation), they were smaller overall. Despite some tantalizing reports, nothing, whether living or extinct, has been proven to have exceeded the sheer mass of the Blue Whale.

Nonetheless, some still believe there may have been at least one extinct animal that was bigger. A dinosaur named Amphicoelias fragillimus, supposedly similar in shape to Diplodocus, was identified and named based solely on a single broken vertebra discovered in the late 1800s.1 Relying on the admittedly inexact process of extrapolating from the size of this enormous vertebra, some estimated its length as approaching 60 m (200 ft) and a mass of over 120 tonnes (135 tons). The extrapolations have been questioned as exaggerated because of typographic errors in the 1878 report as well as physical limitations on the mass of land animals.2 Unfortunately, this lone item of fossil evidence was lost—only photographs and records of measurements remain.

The biggest dinosaur known from a majority of its skeleton is probably Futalognkosaurus dukei, found in western Argentina, which was about 30 m (100 ft) long and over 50 tonnes.3

References and notes

  1. Gilead, The largest dinosaur ever found and subsequently lost again, tychosnose.com.
  2. Woodruff, C. and Foster, J.R., The fragile legacy of Amphicoelias fragillimus (Dinosauria: Sauropoda; Morrison Formation–Latest Jurassic), PeerJ PrePrints 15 February 2015 | doi:10.7287/peerj.preprints.838v1.
  3. Paul, G.S., The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, 2nd Edn, p. 233, Princeton University Press, 2016.

References and notes

  1. Gough, Z., See the world’s biggest heart, bbc.com, 20 August 2015. Return to text.
  2. Davies, E, The world’s loudest animal might surprise you, bbc.com, 1 April 2016. Also Smith, C., Pistol packing … shrimp?! creation.com/pistol-packing-shrimp, 17 April 2012. Return to text.
  3. Pyenson, N.D. et al., Discovery of a sensory organ that coordinates lunge feeding in rorqual whales, Nature 485(7399):498–501, 2012 | doi:10.1038/nature11135. Return to text.
  4. Sarfati., Baleen whales have unique sensory organ, Creation 35(4):38–40, 2013; creation.com/baleen. Return to text.
  5. Bérubé, M. and Aguilar, A., A new hybrid between a Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, and a Fin Whale, B. physalus: frequency and implications of hybridization, Marine Mammal Science 14(1):82–98, January 1998 | doi:10.1111/j.1748–7692.1998.tb00692.x. Both have baleen instead of adult teeth. No hybrids are known between toothed and baleen whales, and from their different anatomy, one would not expect any single Genesis kind to contain representatives of each of these two types. Return to text.
  6. See creation.com/speciation for several articles on the subject. Return to text.
  7. See Chapter 5, ‘Whale Evolution’ in Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, USA, 1999; creation.com/rech5. Return to text.
  8. Klinghoffer, D., Now it’s whale hips: another icon of Darwinian evolution, vestigial structures, takes a hit, evolutionnews.org (a Discovery Institute site = ID), 15 September 2015. Return to text.
  9. Batten, D., Whale evolution flops, Creation 36(4):34–35, 2014, creation.com/whale-evolution-fraud. Return to text.