ETYM Old Eng. whal, AS. hwael; akin to Dutch walvisch, German wal, walfisch, Old High Germ. wal, Icel. hvalr, Dan. and Swed. hval, hvalfisk. Related to Narwhal, Walrus.
(Homonym: wail, wale).
Any of the larger cetacean mammals having a streamlined body and breathing through a blowhole on the head.
Any marine mammal of the order Cetacea, The only mammals to have adapted to living entirely in water, they have front limbs modified into flippers and no externally visible traces of hind limbs. They have horizontal tail flukes. When they surface to breathe, the hot air they breathe out condenses to form a “spout” through the blowhole (single or double nostrils) in the top of the head. Whales are intelligent and have a complex communication system, known as “songs”. They occur in all seas of the world.
The order is divided into two groups: the toothed whales (Odontoceti) and the baleen whales (Mysticeti). Toothed whales are predators, feeding on fish and squid. They include dolphins and porpoises, along with large forms such as sperm whales. The largest whales are the baleen whales, with plates of modified mucous membrane called baleen (whalebone) in the mouth; these strain the food from the water, mainly microscpic plankton. Baleen whales include the finback and right whales, and the blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived, of length up to 30 m/100 ft.
Whales have been hunted for hundreds of years (see whaling); today they are close to extinction. Whale-watching, as an alternative economic use to whaling, generated $121 million worldwide in 1994.
The whale's skin is hairless. Below the skin is a thick layer of blubber, fatty tissue. Movement is by the tail and flukes. They typically give birth to a single young at a time. The young are born alive, after a gestation period of 10-12 months. Most whales are inoffensive creatures and swim in herds; they have been known to follow a confused leader onto a beach. Once stranded on shore they die by suffocation, their own weight crushing the lungs.
Toothed whales comprise 66 species, of which the largest is the sperm whale Physeter catodon (see spermaceti).
The killer whale is a large member of the dolphin family (Delphinidae), and is often exhibited in oceanaria. Killer whales in the wild have 8–15 special calls, and each family group, or “pod”, has its own particular dialect: they are the first mammals known to have dialects in the same way as human language.
Comprise 10 species, comprising three families: rorquals, right whales, and gray whales.
The common rorqual Balaenoptera physalas is slate-colored, and not quite so large.
Right whales of the family Ballaenidae have a thick body and an enormous head. They are regarded by whalers as the “right” whale to exploit since they swim slowly and are relatively easy to catch. The Northern right whale is close to extinction—numbers have fallen to an estimated 350.
The blue whale Sibaldus musculus, one of the finback whales (or rorquals), is 31 m/100 ft long, and weighs over 100 metric tons. It is the largest animal ever to inhabit the planet. It feeds on plankton, strained through its whalebone “plates”.
The bottlenosed whale occasionally visits British waters. The white whale is found mostly off Labrador and Canada. Of the whalebone or right whales the most important formerly were the Greenland whale (Balaena mysticetus) and the Biscayan whale or nordkaper (Eubalaena glacialis).
See also bowhead whale.
A third order, the Archeoceti, is known only from fossils. Paleontologists from the US and Pakistan discovered 1993 a fossil whale with legs. The fossil, called Ambulocetus, is 50 million years old and about the size of a male sealion. It was able to walk on land but spent most of its time at sea.
Najveći morski sisar.
1. To engage in whale fishing.
2. To hunt for whales.
3. To strike or hit vigorously
4. To defeat soundly