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Tiffany Thai- Blue Whale
Project Name : Tiffany Thai- Blue Whale
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Blue whales

Blue whales, the largest existing animal on Earth, have been around for quite some time. These great beings, which were originally land mammals, have adapted to become massive and overwhelming creatures. Though considered endangered, it does not make these marine mammals any less interesting to many researchers around the world.  Blue whales are perhaps one of the most well known animals because of their distinct size and structure. These massive creatures have many unique traits and qualities that make them a very interesting topic to learn about starting from where they got their name and their creation.

The scientific name for a blue whale is Balaenoptera musculus. The name originates from Latin balaena meaning whale and Greek pteron meaning fin and/or wing. Musculus comes from Latin mus meaning mouse which is quite ironic because of the blue whale's significant size (Brower 2012, 3).  Blue whales are Animalia and are categorized under Chordata for their Phylum; meaning they have notochords. The notochord is a flexible skeletal rod that supports the body of animals (Anonymous 2005, 1;S. 2012, 3). Their class is Mammalia since they are warm blooded creatures that feed their offspring with milk from their mammary glands until a certain age (Anonymous 2012h, 1; Anonymous 2012i, 1). Their Order is Cetacea and their suborder is Mysticeti which is comprised of baleen whales (Anonymous 2012h, 1; Anonymous 2012j, 1). The blue whale is part of the rorquals family Balaenopteridae where whales such as the Minke whale are included. These whales are generally more slender than other whales, which gives them the ability to swim faster (Anonymous 2012b, 1; Anonymous 2003, 1). The blue whale's genus is Balaenoptera and their species is called Balaenoptera musculus also known as its scientific name.

It has been thought for a very long time that blue whales, a member of the Cetacea class, evolved from land mammals such as cows around forty five million years ago. Researchers have discovered milk protein evidence to support this theory and have concluded that the hippopotamus is the closest relative of whales. These inferences come from the idea that whales adapted to their environment over the course of years. Their structures adapted to better themselves in the water by having a body that is now capable of swimming fast, and instead of having legs have joined flippers that let them move in the water a lot easier and swifter. In other words, blue whales changed for their new home and habitat so that they would have a higher chance of surviving and would be more compatible with it (Anonymous 2012b, 2).    

The blue whale over the course of years has begun migrating to the near waters of California from the northern parts of the world such as Canada and Alaska. Researchers have found a numerous number of whales on the coasts of routes they use to travel on before they were hunted. This analysis has led researchers to believe that blue whales are going to be on track with their previous migration trails (Retner 2009, 1). Blue whales can be spotted in cold waters such as Antarctica and warmer areas such as the coasts of California. Their habitat consists of chilly waters during summer to eat and during the colder months they'll move towards the equator (Anonymous 2012f, 7). Blue whales tend to stick to the poles for feeding and the equator to breed with other blue whales (Anonymous 2012c, 3). 

The magnificent blue whale was, and still is, the largest animal on Earth today, weighing at approximately one hundred and fifty tons and one hundred feet in length. These remarkable marine mammals are categorized as baleen whales; in other words in a group with animals immense in size (S. 2012, 1). The size of baleen whales typically allows them to store massive amounts of energy as fat and maintain warmth. Blue whales are commonly torpedo and/or cylinder shaped because it allows for better movement in water without the need to waste much energy. The top half of a whale, called the dorsal surface, is usually darker than the rest of their body, which is called the ventral surface because it lets them remain undetected by possible predators (Anonymous 2012d, 1). Though called the blue whale, they are actually very much of a bluish gray. Their undersides sometimes appear yellowish because of an algae from the Bacillariophyceae class. The quote "the forelimbs of baleen whales are pectoral flippers. Pectoral flippers have all the skeletal elements of the forelimbs of terrestrial mammals, but they're foreshortened and modified into paddle-shaped appendages" explains how the structure of the Baleen whales help them maneuver in the ocean (Anonymous 2012d, 2). Blue whales have two long legs because it lets them travel farther distances for feeding (Gill 2012, 1).       

The blue whale is part of the Rorqual family who does have a joined vertebrate which gives them room for flexibility. They have two blow holes on the top of their head that they also use as nostrils. These blow holes are closed up with flaps made from muscle which ensures that no water will enter through them (Anonymous 2012d, 6).  The blue whale has the largest blow hole out of all the other whales extending at nine meters. On the other hand, female whales usually have a longer one that can reach out ten meters more than that of a male. This specific characteristic of theirs allows them to stay under water for long periods of time without resurfacing for more air. The blue whale's head is less than one fourth of its entire body and is very flat and large. It is shaped similar to that of the letter "v" or "u." Additionally they have around ninety throat grooves that lets them eat efficiently as it enlarges their mouth enough so they'll be able to take in more (Anonymous 2012e, 2).

Despite the blue whale's enormous size, they tend to eat the little critters of the ocean. Even though they eat some of the smallest ocean animals, their portions are over four tons which is equal to forty million little shrimp like species each day. A blue whale's diet consists of Krill or Euphausiids, plankton, squid and the other small fishes of the sea (Burande 2011, 5). Their teeth are made of baleen which is very much like that of fingernail material (keratin specifically) so that it doesn't dissolve in water every time they eat. Blue whales eat by taking in large amounts of water containing krill and using theirs tongue, push out the water to swallow only their remaining prey (Anonymous 2011b, 2; Anonymous 2012b, 5). The blue whale normally lives to around the age of seventy to one hundred (Welsh 2012, 3). The blue whale's amazing respiratory system allows them to stay submerged for over fifteen minutes at a time to feed. One researcher named Goldbogen discovered that blue whales are capable of making up to six lunges during their dive while feeding (Knight 2011, 2). These marine mammals use their flukes as a jet in an up and down motion unlike regular fish that swim side to side (Anonymous 2012b, 2).

Blue whales generally reproduce at the age of six to ten when they reach around the mid-seventies in length. Female blue whales conceive after one year and can ovulate every two to three years. When baby blue whales are first born they are around three tons and the mid-twenties in length. They go through a span of time gaining two hundred pounds and one and half inches per day. Once they reach a certain length and weight they are an adult blue whale (Burande 2011, 4). Since whales are mammals, they are able to provide their offspring with "breast milk" which they drink until they gain a certain amount of weight.

The most intimidating structure of a blue whale would most likely be its size and speed (Kenney 1998, 1). The blue whale does not have much of a defense besides its sheer size/hearing and its mass that most carnivores will not try to aim for. They have baleen plates which are useful while feeding because it allows them to eat large amounts of krill at once without swallowing gallons of water. These large marine mammals are capable of going up to thirty miles an hour when fleeing from danger and have excellent eye sight which lets them see dangers from far distances and allows them to find food easier. Also, their best quality would be their hearing, since they communicate from low frequency far away sounds and are able to hear each other. Although the blue whale does not have much of a defensive or offensive structure, they have traits that help they stay alive for long periods of time.  In consideration of the blue whale's great size, it would be impossible for them to take long rests without sinking to the ocean floor and that is why their ability to take short naps is amazing. This specialty of theirs also enables them to always be alert for signs of predators since they are awake most of the time (S. 2012, 2).

One of the most amazing aspects of a whale is their respiratory and circulatory system. Whales are capable of storing about eighty five to ninety percent of oxygen which is more than sixty percent of the amount that humans can at a time. Blue whales have a lot of red blood cells which in turn allows them to pump oxygen to their muscles and other parts of their body quicker. They are also capable of slowing down their heart rate while diving so that it does not waste as much energy, and returning it to a normal heart beat after resurfacing for more air. While diving, blood is only delivered to the important organs of the whale. Blue whales have over time developed structures that help them block out water, since they survive by breathing oxygen in air, by closing their ears every time they dive (Anonymous 2012g, 3).

The blue whale species once great in size has now been reduced to a mere five thousand and is considered endangered. This was caused by whaling in the twentieth century when grueling estimates of two hundred thousand whales were killed for their resources. The only groups left are situated in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere (Anonymous 2011, 5). Blue whales originally were safe from harm because of their ability to swim fast and their mass. However, after several human inventions/innovations they were left powerless and soon were targeted by many. Soon after they became hunted for their extensive oil supply and in the year 1931 mass slaughter occurred when twenty nine thousand were killed just in one whaling season (Anonymous 2012b, 5).   

Scientists have in the last few years been experimenting with sounds and blue whales to see their reactions to the noise. They tested and determined if they reacted differently at certain times of the day and have found no significant difference. This study was to determine if blue whales had a behavioral response to anthropogenic (man-made) noises. They have found that blue whales react stronger when ships are nearby and have logged this in their studies. Blue whales typically emit low frequency sounds. Researchers have made an inference that their great ability to hear from far away allows them to be in good range away from possible harm. The information they gathered allows them to understand blue whales better and how they go about on an everyday basis. The studies help determine/figure out how good their hearing is and their behavioral responses to such things (Mathevon 2011, 1). Data collected between 2007 and 2010 was used to compare how far away a blue whale could hear noise and react to it (Mckenna 2011, 1). Another thing scientists have studied over the years is their skin and blubber which is used to study their genetics and the amount of pollution contained (Anonymous 2012, 3).

Long ago there was a myth among sailors that blue whales would help them while they were abroad. If danger was nearby, a blue whale would circle the ship precisely three times. The blue whale would then sacrifice itself to save the crew members if there were more than three signs of danger by exploding and taking the enemies with them (Anonymous 2012k, 1). After hearing this I always thought of whales as noble and loyal marine beings. When I was younger I heard many stories relating to whales and the ocean. I always found them interesting and wondered what would be considered the “king whale” among them. I was astonished to discover that the “king whale” was and still is the largest animal on Earth today. This made me realize that the blue whale was an interesting animal and has been one of my favorite animals ever since.

Blue whales have been one of the most interesting animals to read about and study these past few years. Although they are mostly known for their size, they also have many other fascinating traits that are worth studying and looking into. They first came from land mammals and later became the largest animal in the world with a very complex respiratory system. The great blue whale is now on track for extinction, but they are an animal that will not easily be forgotten by scientists. These great species stand out the most when grouped in a list of other animals and are going to be for some time.

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