Under the Sea — May 13, 2015 at 5:00 am

The Largest Animals To Ever Exist: Blue Whales

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©istockphoto/Liz Leyden

©istockphoto/Liz Leyden

Since the water cup began rippling on the dashboard in 1993, Jurassic Park set a new bar for the public’s perception of massive animals; they’re large, likely ectothermic (cold blooded), and became extinct millions of years ago. And today it’s quite easy to re-visit the moment online―or pop in that antiquated, hand-rewound VHS cassette. But, ironically, the largest animal to ever existence never graced the big screen with its truck-sized footprint—because it doesn’t have feet. And it’s still alive and swimming. The largest animal to ever have existed on Earth is the Blue Whale.

The Aquatic Safari’s Largest Attraction
At over 130+ tons, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest animal to ever take a breath on our planet―and by a quite a bit. Yes, while the Argentinosaurus (Argentinosaurus huinculensis) is longer at 115 feet (compared to the blue whales ruler-stretching 89 feet), the long-necked dinosaur of the Late Cretaceous is a lightweight at just a mere 80 or so tons. And, occupying nearly all of the earth’s oceans (aside from the far north reaches of the arctic), their endemic, aquatic Serengeti is expansive, to say the absolute least.

The Big Four
The common moniker, “blue whale,” actually represents an umbrella taxa of baleen whales, enveloping four distinct sub-species that inundate the world’s temperate and cool oceans: the pygmy blue whales of the Indian and South Pacific (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda), northern blue whales of the Atlantic (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia), southern blue whales of the mid-Pacific (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda), and the muddied classification of the great Indian rorqual (Balaenoptera musculus indica). In fact, the latter subspecies is so enigmatic that its widely classified under the same scientific moniker as the pygmy blue whale.

Genetic Hybridization
To piggyback on the Jurassic Park correlation, in the highly anticipated fourth installment, one of the protagonists mentions the creation of a “genetically modified hybrid [dinosaur].” Blue whales followed the same suit―and beat them to script-written punch. Genetic analysis have been done on harvested whale meats on the Japanese fish market. Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are nearly identical to one another in their genetic makeup. And it’s because of their mirroring genealogy that has lead scientist to document at least eleven “blue/fin” hybrids overtime. In fact, observational reports exist of possible blue whale/ humpback whale hybrids―big, blue, and boldly humped.

Blue whales don’t just share their sheer massiveness with their big-screen cousins, they also share the possibility of going the same way as they did. Blue whales were nearly brought to extinction by the whaling industry in the 18th century—but in the 21st century they’ve climbed up the population ladder. Thanks to conservation efforts, these huge beasts are going to stay the largest animals on this planet.

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