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Whales are marine mammals of the order Cetacea.


Whales are separated into the toothed whales (which includes dolphins, porpoises, narwhals, beaked whales and sperm whales) and the whalebone, or baleen, whales. The latter are cetaceans, mostly very large, which, instead of teeth, have baleen (whalebone) to filter small prey from the water; they are what people generally think of when the word whale is used. The whalebone whales include the rorquals - the blue whale, fin whale, sei whale, Bryde's whale, minke whale, grey whale; the humpback whale; and the various right whales.

Although whales are famed for the massive size reached by some species, such as the blue whale (the largest animal to ever live), others are relatively small, like the pygmy right whale which grows to about 20 feet [1]. Though whales have many traits in common with fish (including fins and tails) they are classified as mammals under the Linnaean taxonomy classification system because they breathe air and lactate. Whales have a number of remarkable features including:

  • they decide when to breathe, rather than breathing unconsciously
  • they sleep 8 hours a day, yet need to be conscious to breathe
  • they can communicate with each other by making remarkably loud noises
  • these extraordinary noises can travel for miles under water
  • the females nurse their calves while swimming underwater
  • the males have a unique cooling system for their internal reproductive organs
  • whales, along with humans and horses, are some of the few mammal species that do not possess baculum (penile bone)
  • some have two blow-holes, but others only have one
  • the blow-holes pass air above water, yet resist intense pressure underwater
  • they have massive brains, much larger than the brains of other mammals


There are two kinds of whales: toothed whales of the suborder Odontoceti (which includes dolphins and porpoises), and whalebone (baleen) whales of the suborder Mysticeti.

Toothed whales include:

Baleen whales include:


File:Whale evolution.jpgThe question of how whales and their relatives could have evolved from terrestrial mammals has taxed evolutionary biologists since Darwin's suggestion that they may have evolved from ancient bears.
"In North America the black bear was seen . . . swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale."

In more recent times molecular and fossil evidence has been used to suggest that modern whales and their relatives arose from ancient artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates) with the closest living relative of all whales being hippopotami.[3] This kinship has been termed the whippo hypothesis.[4] Evolutionary biologists estimate the last ancestor of whales and hippos lived about 25 million years ago,[5] which contrasts with the young earth creationist position that whales were created about 6000 years ago, before land animals .[6][7][8]

Whaling industry

Bradford, Icebound Whaling Ship.

See: Whaling

Whales in literature

The Bible

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17 (KJV)

The great fish that swallowed Jonah is often thought of as being a whale, although the translation of 'great fish' is not a precise designation of species but may indicate any physically large, ocean-going creature. The physical difficulty of having a human be swallowed by a whale and survive the intense pressure of diving, lack of air and acidic environment of the stomach, and the fact that the Bible says that God "prepared" the fish has led some to suggest the creature may be uniquely and specially prepared by God for the purpose. Alternatively, Jonah may have been simply protected by supernatural means.

Whales are mentioned in three other places in the King James Version of the Bible:

  • Genesis 1:21: "And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good."
  • Job 7:12: "Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?"
  • Ezekiel 32:2: "Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers.


Arguably the most famous book about whales is Herman Melville's Moby Dick, about a whaling-ship captain obsessed with hunting down the sperm whale (Moby Dick) which had bitten off one of his legs.

See Also

Further reading


  1. [1]American Cetacean Society website
  2. Charles Darwin, Origin of species 1st edition
  3. [2] Theodore, JM (2004) Molecular Clock Divergence Estimates And The Fossil Record Of Cetartiodactyla The Journal Of Paleontology 78:39-44
  4. http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/pdfs/data/1999/15619/15619-10.pdf
  5. [3] UCLA Berkley Understanding Evolution for Teachers website
  6. Sarfati, Jonathan Whale evolution? Refuting Evolution, Chapter 5.
  7. Batten, Don, A whale of a tale? Journal of Creation 8(1):2–3, April 1994.
  8. Williams, Alexander, and Sarfati, Jonathan, Not at all like a whale, Creation 27(2):20–22, March 2005.