10 Incredible Whale Facts

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: August 22, 2023
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10 Whale Facts
Whales are the largest animals on the Earth!

Whales are massive marine mammals that can be found in every ocean of the world. From the frigid waters in the Antarctic to the balmy tropical coast of Hawaii, whales are awe-inspiring and truly magnificent creatures. Of course, not all whales are enormous, but even some of the smaller whales have some pretty amazing facts you may not know. How far do you think whales migrate? How long can a whale hold its breath? Is a baby whale bigger than your living room? Read on to find out 10 incredible whale facts!

1. Whales Are the Biggest Animal in the World

whale size comparison
While blue whales are the largest whales, the Antarctic blue whales typically outsize the rest. The largest blue whales can reach lengths of 98 feet!

We have to start with the obvious! Whales are indeed the biggest animal in the world. While blue whales are the largest whales, the Antarctic blue whales typically outsize the rest. The largest blue whales can reach lengths of 98 feet! So for a really entertaining halftime show, you could fit a blue whale at the half-line of a football field and have room to spare. An American football field is about 160 feet wide. For our International readers more accustomed to a “soccer” field or football field (let’s not start that debate), the field is 209-246 feet wide so that you could fit two blue whales nose to nose. Weight wise blue whales can tip the scales at 400,000 pounds!

2. Sperm Whales Can Hold Their Breath for 90 Minutes

Sperm whale underwater swimming towards you

Sperm whales can stay submerged for up to 90 minutes!

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Sperm whales are deep divers, so they need to be able to hold their breath for a long time to hunt food in some of the deepest parts of the ocean. The average sperm whale can dive 1,000 to 2,000 meters, with the deepest recorded depth of 2,992 meters. Whales are mammals, so they need to breathe air. They surface frequently and use the blowhole on top of their head to breathe (baleen whales have two blowholes). Sperm whales can store oxygen in their blood and muscles, allowing them to stay submerged for up to 90 minutes. Compare that to humans, and its way outlasts us. The Guinness World Record for a human holding their breath is 24 minutes 3 seconds, set by Aleix Segura Vendrell. However, this was an oxygen-assisted record. The average person can hold their breath for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the practice. Nowhere near the sperm whale record!

3. Humpback Whales Migrate 3,000-5,000 Miles in One Season

Aerial view of four Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) swimming together among of icebergs in Greenland, Ilulissat Icefjord, Unesco World Heritage Site, Greenland

Humpback whales travel north in the summer to a more plentiful food source.

©Ziba Photo Media/iStock via Getty Images

Humpback whales that summer in the North Pacific migrate every winter more than 3,000 miles every day! They migrate together in pods down to Hawaii, the west coast of Mexico, the west coast of Central America, and the south of Japan. They leave the summer feeding grounds in the winter to travel to the warmer waters for breeding. More than 10,000 whales make the journey to the waters off the coast of Hawaii each season! In the summer, they return to the calm waters around Alaska, British Columbia, and eastern Russia, where the food is more plentiful. Whale-watching charters are some of the most amazing experiences. Pictures just don’t do justice!

4. Some Whales Travel in Pods: A Megapod Can Have 100 Whales or More

Wild Orcas Whales pod in open water in blue ocean

Whales, like these Orcas, swim in pods.

©Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock.com

Talking about whale watching, can you imagine being lucky enough to come across a pod of 100 whales or more? Most humpback whales usually live in small pods of 2-3 but form larger pods when they migrate, but 100 is an enormously large pod! On September 9, 2021, a “megapod” of humpback whales was filmed off the coast of Australia near Bermagui. The leader of Sapphire Coastal Adventures was running training for their staff when they spotted this massive group of humpbacks. The group videotaped the whales herding a bunch of fish so they could feed. The whales migrate to the eastern waters of Australia between April and November, but a group this size is extremely rare. What an amazing tale to be able to share, quite a sight!

5. Blue Whale’s Call Is Loud…180 Decibels Loud!

What do blue whales eat

The call of a blue whale can be 180 decibels.

©iStock.com/MR1805

You may be familiar with the sound of whales singing to each other. Their long moans, groans, and clicks have been recorded for years, and some whales even sing together like a choir. Researchers have found that humpback whales can learn songs from other humpbacks, even if they are from different geographical locations. The calls of whales can be extremely loud as well. For example, the call of a blue whale can be 180 decibels! That is louder than a chainsaw, stock car race, or even your favorite rock concert. 180 decibels is more like the sound of a jet plane taking off.

Whale calls can also travel long distances, thousands of miles! For example, if a whale makes a call underwater in an area that has a deep sound channel, the sound can carry for 6,000 km or more, which is the same as 3,728 miles.

6. Humpback and Bryde’s Whale Use a Bubble Net to Trap Prey

Humpback whales feeding

Humpback whales use bubble-net feeding.

©iStock.com/srhtkn

What is bubble net feeding? Bubble net feeding is a technique that some whales use to hunt their prey. They work together to force a school of fish up near the surface where they can enjoy a large gulp of dinner. Humpback whales and Bryde’s whales have been observed using this technique. By sneaking up underneath a school of fish, one whale begins blowing bubbles with its blowhole while the other whales swim around the school, directing them to the surface. All of this coordination shows just how intelligent whales are!

7. Only Half Asleep, Whales Sleep with Half their Brain Still Awake

How Do Whales Sleep Underwater - A Humpback Whale Sleeping Vertically

Whales rest one half of their brains at a time.

©Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock.com

You have probably heard the term “sleep with one eye open” if you are supposed to keep on your toes, but whales actually do this. They use unihemispheric sleep, where one half of the brain rests while the other half stays engaged. Whales do this for several reasons. First, they need to consciously breathe, so some part of their brain needs to stay engaged to continue breathing. Secondly, they need to remain alert against predators. Due to their size, it is not like they have very many places to hide!

8. Killer Whales Hunt in Packs: They’re Not Afraid to Take on Sharks

Fastest Sea Animal: Killer Whale

Another amazing whale fact is that killer whales hunt in packs. Together they are not afraid to even take on some of the fiercest sharks.

©Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

Another amazing whale fact is that killer whales hunt in packs. Together they are not afraid to even take on some of the fiercest sharks. They more commonly will target seals, sea lions, salmon, herring, and small whales, but if they come across a shark, even a great white shark, they work together to herd them into shallow water, surround them, and attack. It seems they only eat the sharks’ liver, which is rich in nutrients. Killer whales, or orcas, are actually a type of dolphin, and dolphins are in the whale family, cetaceans.

9. Big Babies! Whales have some of the Biggest Babies on Earth

mother and baby humpback whale swimming together

Baby whales can weigh thousands of pounds at birth.

©Imagine Earth Photography/Shutterstock.com

Blue whale babies weigh 5-6,000 pounds at birth! They come out at around 23 feet long as well. Now that is a big baby! That is nearly the length of a package delivery truck, and that is on day 1! Sperm whale babies start out weighing around 1 ton (2000 pounds) and are 11-16 feet long. How does that compare to a baby elephant? African bush elephant babies can be 200-268 pounds at birth and stand 3 feet tall. The heaviest male babies can reach 360 pounds. You have to admit that is a pretty big baby as well!

10. Whales Include Dolphins, Porpoises, and Narwhal

baby beluga whale

Beluga whales are also in the whale family as well as killer whales or orcas.

©Luna Vandoorne/Shutterstock.com

Did you know that the whale family also includes dolphins, porpoises, and narwhal? Beluga whales are also in the whale family as well as killer whales or orcas. They are all marine mammals in the cetacean family. Whales are categorized into two groups, toothed whales and baleen whales. Toothed whales have, yes, you guessed it, teeth (or one tooth when it comes to some narwhal), and baleen whales have a baleen plate of long skinny baleen used to sift the water for zooplankton, krill, and small fish. Examples of baleen whales are blue, humpback, gray, fin, sei, and North Atlantic right whales. Toothed whales include sperm whales, beluga whales, narwhals, ocean and river dolphins, and porpoises. Whales really have a diverse group and are some of the most fascinating animals on Earth!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Earth theater/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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