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Nature & Environment

Whales only became huge relatively recently

By T.K. Randall
May 24, 2017 · Comment icon 13 comments

Whales were once much smaller than they are today. Image Credit: NOAA
They may be giants of the deep today, but blue whales only gained their huge size 2-3 million years ago.
Measuring up to 100ft in length and weighing in at more than 200 tons, the blue whale is the largest and heaviest living creature to have ever existed in the entire history of the world.

Now scientists have revealed that baleen whales - the group to which blue whales belong - were originally a lot smaller and only grew in size in response to changes to their food distribution.

"We think of [baleen whales] as being giants but if you consider this in the context of their 36m-year evolutionary history, they have only been giants for a 10th [of it]," said biologist Graham Slater.
This shift towards gigantism is thought to have occurred between 2 and 3 million years ago and is also believed to have arisen independently in multiple different branches of the whale family tree.

Rather than emerging in response to the evolution of bulk filter feeding or the appearance of large predators such as sharks however, this increase in size was most likely down to changes in the Earth's climate which caused the whales' prey to congregate in dense pockets.

"The bigger your mouth, the more you can take in and the less energy it costs you to do it," said Slater. "If you are big you can just store more energy - you have got a bigger fuel tank."

"If you are big your cost of transport is also lower so you get more miles to the gallon."

Source: The Guardian | Comments (13)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by Future ghost 7 years ago
Well, thank you, I'm glad. It sure felt stupid as I typed it! 
Comment icon #5 Posted by WoIverine 7 years ago
I'd worry about Fukushima, various oil spills, and pollution eventually having an affect. Radiation being a nasty one at that.
Comment icon #6 Posted by oldrover 7 years ago
As to the original question, who knows, probably yes. But then they might just go full stop. 
Comment icon #7 Posted by Future ghost 7 years ago
Well, with radiation and all of the other poisons we keep dumping into the oceans maybe they'll actually get bigger, and all sea life will start to mutate. Now there's a scary thought.
Comment icon #8 Posted by WoIverine 7 years ago
lol, no doubt.  Reminded me of this actually: IT'Z GODZILLA!
Comment icon #9 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
Ask for some money to study that.  I'm sure you can get some.   The article stated "If you are big your cost of transport is also lower so you get more miles to the gallon." That certainly doesn't work with cars.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Future ghost 7 years ago
Pretty sure that doesn't work with anything! Lol
Comment icon #11 Posted by Future ghost 7 years ago
My thoughts exactly.
Comment icon #12 Posted by Mr.United_Nations 7 years ago
So what happened to Megledon? 2.6 mullion years ago was its last era, which something happened to Whales and Megledon.
Comment icon #13 Posted by brizink 7 years ago
The size to miles per gallon ratio being in that favor of the bigger does work when you're either underwater and gravity has little to no affect on your physiology. It also works well for cold blooded animals, snakes and crocodiles are good examples. Much of their energy is stored and immediate energy needs are met by the heat from the sun or in some cases warm water and geothermal energy. It makes sense that bigger works better underwater. A well nourished adult blue whale can outrun a great white with little effort, just like how a giant from fantasy like Jack and the bean stalk can take a s... [More]

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