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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wildlife Photography - The Amazing Blue Whale, Largest Animal, Ever

A rare sighting of a Blue Whale mother and calf in the Santa Barbara channel, California 

As a wildlife photographer, I have taken a few images of some of  Nature's smallest creatures, like the incredible Hummingbirds, and her biggest, the Blue Whale - the largest animal living on our planet, ever.

Cetaceans, the term used to describe porpoises, dolphins and whales, are mammals, just like ourselves. They are warm-blooded, have mammary glands to feed their young, possess a four chambered heart and have hairs on their bodies.  Like all mammals, whales breathe oxygen. They surface to exhale and take in a quick breath before submerging. During the past few centuries of relentless commercial whaling, this behavior was the Achilles' Heel of the great whales, because the whalers can spot the animal even from a distance and thus gave rise to the old, familiar cry, "Thar she blows!"

There are two types of whales - toothed and baleen. Toothed whales, like the Killer Whale and Beluga Whale, have one blow hole on top of their heads and use their teeth to seize its food. Baleen is a strong and flexible material made out of keratin, a protein that is made from the same material as our hair and fingernails. Baleen whales, like the Humpback, Gray and Blue whales, have two blow holes and feed by swallowing huge amount of water, filled with small fish, krill and plankton. They then close their mouths and the baleen on the side will trap and filter the food and release the water.

The longest recorded length for a Blue whale is over 100 feet and weigh over 150 tons but some whales are estimated to be even larger and heavier. They are sought after by whale watching groups around the world. It has a long, somewhat tapered and streamlined body, with the head making up less than one-fourth of its total body length. The rostrum (upper part of the head) is very broad and flat and almost U-shaped, with a single ridge that extends just forward of the blowhole to the tip of the snout. The body is smooth and relatively free of parasites, although a few barnacles may attach to the edge of the tail fluke, the tips of the flippers and to the small, triangular dorsal fin. There is a row of 300 to 400 black baleen plates on each side of the mouth, and approximately 90 throat grooves extend to the navel, which allows the throat to expand enormously during feeding.

Despite its common name, the Blue whale is actually grayish-blue, with a mottled effect that is visible in some lights and can allow individuals to be identified. The underside often has a yellowish tinge, especially on whales living in polar waters, which is caused by microscopic algae called ‘diatoms’ and led to early whalers giving this species the nickname ‘sulfur bottom whale.’ The blow or spout of the Blue whale is the biggest among all cetaceans, the slender column of air when the animal exhales can reach 30 feet.  The Northern Hemisphere's Blue whales are generally smaller than their cousins in the Southern Ocean and the females are much bigger than the males, perhaps by up to 30 feet.

Despite their awe-inspiring size, we know little about this amazing animal. No footage has ever been recorded of the Blue whale mating or giving birth. Scientists know very little about where these cetaceans go to breed or raise their young. Photographing Blue whales is one of the most exciting thing any photographer can do. The immense size of these animals are simply stunning. Yet they are so gentle and calm even among ships and boats in a busy traffic sea lane like the Santa Barbara Channel in California.

For more posts on photographing other wildlife, you will find ElephantsPolar bearsBengal tigersKiller whales and Hummingbirds adventures here. I have been a wildlife photographer for 25 years using Canon gear. You can read my FAQs on wildlife photography, see my equipment bag and works on You can also follow my travels on my blog, TwitterFacebook and Instagram.


Canon User said...

Amazing indeed. Great photos. Love to see one of these gentle giants myself.

Michael Daniel Ho said...

The BW is really awe-inspiring. You can't imagine their size until you are close up to one.