Creatures Of The Sea:
And God created great whales, and every living creature
that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly…and
God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:21)
Whales are mammals. They breathe air through lungs; they give birth
to live young; they have mammary glands to nurse their young. Yet
God made them to live underwater. Why? Well, since three-quarters
of the earth’s surface is water, perhaps He just wanted to
fill all that space with some large and fascinating creatures!
Whales are of the family Cetacean and there are two types—baleen
and toothed. The baleen whales, such as gray, blue and humpback
whales, have no teeth. They have baleen plates attached to the upper
jaw. This is a keratin material, soft and feathery, and it captures
tiny animals in the water the whale swallows. Periodically, the
whale wipes the plates clean with its huge tongue. Some baleen whales
live exclusively on plankton—a creature weighing as much as
100 tons consuming between 2200-5500 pounds of food a day, food
made up primarily of microscopic organisms! Toothed whales, of course,
have teeth. They feed primarily on fish and squid. Of the 79 species
of cetaceans, 67 of them are toothed, including the orca or killer
whale, sperm and beluga whales, and all the dolphin species.
Orcas are clever and opportunistic feeders,
taking whatever’s available. They gather near the spawning
grounds of sea lions, and if a young one ventures out too far, he
probably won’t make it back. Orcas will come right into shore
to capture young seals, almost beaching themselves as they rush
in to grab an unsuspecting youngster. Orcas are beautiful to look
at, with striking black and white markings. Their tall dorsal fin
is distinctive and can be used to identify individuals. They are
the most widely distributed mammals on earth, found in every ocean
from North Pole to South Pole.
The sperm whales tend to feed on giant squid which live deep in
the ocean. So sperm whales must be able to dive very deep—they
regularly go 3000 feet, but sometimes as much as 10,000 feet!—and
they may stay submerged for an hour or more. How they go that deep
and survive, we can only imagine.
Whales are fascinating and mysterious animals; there’s still
so much that we don’t really know about them. How do they
dive? And how do they surface quickly without suffering “the
bends” as we would? They utilize air more efficiently than
we do. They store oxygen in the bloodstream and the muscles rather
than holding their breath. At the surface, the whale breathes in
and out, rapidly taking in air which is distributed around its body.
As it begins to dive, the heart rate slows and blood supply except
to vital organs is decreased. The lungs collapse. After a few minutes,
the muscles switch to anaerobic respiration, which produces energy
without the use of oxygen. The muscles produce lactic acid which
is dangerous for humans over a long period, but no problem for the
whale. And whales are able to
come up rapidly, even from dives of
thousands of feet, without experiencing any problems. Humans can
suffer the bends when diving only about 100 feet.
Blue whales are the largest animal to ever have lived on the planet,
much larger than the largest dinosaur. They are regularly 100 feet
long, weighing 200 tons. Its heart is huge. Although it’s
proportionally the same size as our heart, it’s roughly the
size of an automobile! A human baby could crawl through its arteries
with room to spare. The tongue alone weighs more than an elephant,
and 50 people could stand on its tongue! These are dimensions we
really can’t grasp; we can only marvel at God’s creation.
The smallest of the whales—only slightly larger than a dolphin—is
the beluga, a white whale that lives year round near the northern
ice cap. They have no dorsal fin so they can slip easily under the
ice. They maintain a body temperature of 98.6 in water temperatures
around 30 degrees. Their layer of blubber is about 4” thick;
up to 50 percent of their body weight is fat.
The relationship between man and whale has gone through many phases.
The native peoples were very respectful of whales. When they hunted
them they did so with reverence and admiration. They used all parts
of the whale. They ate the skin, meat and blubber; they made waterproof
clothing from gut; they dried and inflated the stomach and intestines
as storage vessels; they used the oil for cooking, heating and light;
from baleen they made thread and fishing equipment, combs, toys
and traps; they used the huge bones as fences, sled runners and
in the construction of houses.
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