Readers’ wildlife photos

January 4, 2015 • 8:30 am

Reader John Pears sent photos of the world’s largest mammal (not only now, but, as far as we know, over Earth’s entire history) and some explanation. I’ve put some amazing facts in bold:

While you have been enjoying the delights of India, I’ve visited Sri Lanka again and, despite the wonderful people (who love cricket!) culture, bird and insect life, the highlight again was the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus). These magnificent creatures can be found of the southern coast near Weligama, where the continental shelf is quite narrow and a combination of resident and migratory whales can be found 10-15 miles from the harbour at Marissa. Unfortunately conditions were far from ideal this year makinginding the whales quite tricky and the photography, on a pitching deck amid the spay, quite a challenge. As a result, apart from the first photo, the others were taken on my last trip in 2012 when conditions were perfect.

1 Blue Whale

As can be seen from photos 2 and 3 the whales can be quite close although, with most of its mass being below the surface and without a scale reference, it’s difficult to appreciate the size of these whales which are probably circa 30 metres (90ft) and 190 tonnes! That’s as long as the Space Shuttle and has heavy as 6 London Route master Buses. Its tongue weighs as much as an African elephant, it eats 4 tonne of krill per day and its heartbeat can be detected 2 miles away. The spray from the blow hole can be 9 metres (30ft) in the air and a toddler can fit into the blow hole.

2 Blue Whale

3 Blue Whale

Photo 4 is a composite sequence showing a ‘fluking’ whale which was quite a privilege to see.

4 Blue Whale

Photo 5 is a favourite of mine with several remora clearly visible on the
tail fluke.

5 Blue Whale~


15 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. A magnificent experience, wonderfully described by you!.

    The last three photos did not come through for me. Maybe they are too big to display properly?

  2. Wow. I thought I read somewhere that the blue whale is one of the species that is making good progress in returning from near extinction.

    1. “Blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere were reduced to only a few percent of their unexploited stock size (which may have been as many as 200,000) by industrial whaling in the Southern Ocean, primarily from the 1920s-1940s. Although sadly they remain at very low levels (in the low thousands), encouragingly the available evidence reveals an increasing trend of around 8% per year in recent years.

      Blue whales in the North Atlantic were also exploited heavily. A full assessment of present status has not been carried out. Encouragingly though, the available evidence suggests they are increasing, at least in the area of the central North Atlantic; at present, there are around 1,000 animals off Iceland and several hundred in the Gulf of St Lawrence. They remain rare in the northeastern Atlantic where they were once common.

      Blue whales in the North Pacific were again heavily exploited. There are insufficient data available to comment on present status in most parts of the North Pacific although there is evidence of an increase rate of about 3% for the Gulf of California. Blue whales in the eastern tropical Pacific are thought to number around 3,000”

  3. The tongue weighs as much as an elephant! That fact, more than any other, really puts their size into perspective for me.

      1. the heart is as big as a car and it would be possible for a small child to crawl through some of the arteries/veins. the stats are impressive but nothing prepares you for the real thing!

    1. Pretty much. The closest rival I can think of is the massive sauropods from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods (especially the titanosaurs), but in general, the more extravagant the claims of sauropod size, the scantier the evidence. The most credible largest sauropod I can think of at present is Argentinosaurus, and that was about half the weight of the blue whale.

  4. I’d love to see a blue whale in the flesh. It’s not just the sheer size, though that plays a part. Whales in general are among the most wonderful creatures on the planet; beautiful, musical, and an amazing triumph of evolution in their feeding and travel, but also mysterious. Merely seeing them on a television set excites me, and revitalizes my love for ocean life. I feel almost short-changed that humans aren’t amphibious!

    Blue whales encapsulate nearly all of what makes the ocean fascinating.

Leave a Reply