WWF-Canada Blog:
Oceans


Snoop dogs, beluga bromance and other fascinating facts for World Whale Day

February 13 is World Whale Day! To celebrate here are 10 things you may not have known about whales.

1. Diving deep into a mystery

Narwhals regularly dive down to a depth of 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) in Baffin Bay in winter under almost complete sea-ice cover to feed on Greenland Halibut, their main prey. Just how they do that, and how they even find these bottom-dwelling flatfish, remains largely a mystery.

Female narwhal (Monodon monoceros) Canadian Arctic. © naturepl.com / Doug Allan / WWF

Female narwhal (Monodon monoceros) Canadian Arctic. © naturepl.com / Doug Allan / WWF

2. Pushing out daises

Like their horned relatives such as bison, sperm whales will encircle the young and old and aim their most powerful weapons, their tails, out towards potential predators. This formation is called a marguerite formation (French for daisy).

Sperm whale (Physeter catodon) whale diving, fluke detail, Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean. © Pieter Lagendyk / WWF

Sperm whale (Physeter catodon) whale diving, fluke detail, Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean. © Pieter Lagendyk / WWF

3. Bite me

Whales with teeth are known as odontocete whales. Depending on the species, their teeth can range from ones similar to human-sized to massive fangs that can weigh up to one kilogram (2.2 lbs), such as a sperm whale’s teeth. Male strap-toothed whales have the most impressive teeth. They grow out of the lower jaw and over the upper jaw, allowing the whale to open their mouths only a few centimetres.

 Beluga whale (Delphinaptherus leucas),with its mouth wide open, White Sea, Russia, Kareliya. © Andrey Nekrasov / WWF

Beluga whale (Delphinaptherus leucas),with its mouth wide open, White Sea, Russia, Kareliya. © Andrey Nekrasov / WWF

4. Shrimpin’ ain’t easy

Most whale species have their own whale louse species (really shrimp species, not lice). They live in openings and any wounds or scars on the whale. In sperm whales, the males host one louse species, and the females a different one.

5. Researches use snoop dogs to tail whale poop

Scientists have been using dogs to aid in the collection of whale poop. Pooches trained to find the poop of specific species of whale are part of at-sea teams. In the Bay of Fundy, a friendly Rottweiler named Fargo has been trained to sniff out poop of the endangered North Atlantic right whale. This enables scientists to collect valuable samples used to assess stress, health and reproductive hormones.

A North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), also known as the Northern right whale, in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada. © Damian Lidgard / WWF-Canada

A North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), also known as the Northern right whale, in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada. © Damian Lidgard / WWF-Canada

6. A whale is a terrible thing to waste

Belugas in the St Lawrence Estuary and Gulf were classified as toxic waste in recent decades due to the massive concentrations of man-made chemicals that had accumulated in their bodies via the food chain. Although the toxicity levels have since fallen, there are still many hundreds of such chemicals found in dead belugas washed up on the shores.

Four Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), swimming at the surface of the St. Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada. © Robert Michaud / WWF-Canada

Four Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), swimming at the surface of the St. Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada. © Robert Michaud / WWF-Canada

7. You smell like whale barf

Some of the most coveted perfume on the planet contains one of the oddest ingredients: ambergris, which is more commonly known as sperm whale vomit. Lumps from the whale’s innards have gone for as much as $22,000.

An underwater view of a Sperm whale lying just below the surface. © Hal WHITEHEAD / WWF-Canada

An underwater view of a Sperm whale lying just below the surface. © Hal WHITEHEAD / WWF-Canada

8. Don’t hold your breath

The world record for a human to hold their breath is 22 minutes. The Cuvier’s beaked whale smashes this record with a demonstrated ability to hold its breath for more than two hours and more than three kilometres, (nearly two miles) beneath the water’s surface.

Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) spy hopping, Ligurian Sea, Italy. © naturepl.com / Todd Pusser / WWF

Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) spy hopping, Ligurian Sea, Italy. © naturepl.com / Todd Pusser / WWF

9. On the catwalk

Bowhead whales have hundreds of baleen plates in their mouths, which help filter food from the water. At four metres long (13-feet), these baleen plates are the longest in the whale world. During the commercial whaling era, when whale oil was used for heating and lighting, fashion-conscious ladies sought out Bowhead baleen plates as Victorian-era corset stays.

Bowhead whale (Balaena Mysticetus) just under ice, Arctic. © naturepl.com / Martha Holmes / WWF

Bowhead whale (Balaena Mysticetus) just under ice, Arctic. © naturepl.com / Martha Holmes / WWF

10. Family ties and beluga bromance

Belugas show a strong loyalty to specific small places within their habitat, to which they return again and again. Scientists like Robert Michaud think they come back to socialize. Female belugas are also known for “alloparenting,” which involves mothers sharing parenting duties, sometimes for unrelated calves. Michaud also refers to male beluga groups as “bikers” due to the tight social bonds they form – a beluga bromance of sorts.

Two Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), St. Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada. © Robert Michaud / WWF-Canada

Two Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), St. Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada. © Robert Michaud / WWF-Canada