sea-mammal

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Rare Photographs of the Narwhal

In one of the most isolated areas on Earth, a diver at the North Pole has captured rare photographs of the elusive narwhal. Daniel Botelho captured the extraordinary images of the area and the famously shy narwhals, and is followed closely by one, in a moment natives describe as ‘magical’.

He recently embarked on a mission to locate and photograph the legendary “unicorn of the sea”: the narwhal. It was a North Pole adventure even he realized was likely to end in failure, because narwhals are famously shy around boats and people, and very few underwater photographs of the strange-looking mammals exist.

But Botelho, who was working on a project for Disney and gathering material for an upcoming book, did more than photograph narwhals. One of them, a female, became curious of the photographer and followed him as he swam through the frozen waters of the high Arctic.

by Bill Garvin, courtesy Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Affectionately called Aunt Rosie (pictured on the left) by keepers at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Florida, this manatee has taken more than 20 young ones under her flipper, whether they were orphans or simply in need of a babysitter.

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Animal of the Month (Formerly Animal of the Week; 1, 2, 3, 4)

Giraffe in a Tree’s Animal of the Month for the month of February is the largest animal ever to exist, the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus).

The blue whale is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales (called Mysticeti). At 30 meters (98 ft) in length and 170 tons (190 short tons) or more in weight, it is the largest known animal to have ever existed. Sadly, its great size hasn’t been enough for it to thrive here on Earth against humankind.

Blue whales were abundant in nearly all the oceans on Earth until the beginning of the twentieth century. For over a century, they were hunted almost to extinction by whalers until protected by the international community in 1966. A 2002 report estimated there were 5,000 to 12,000 blue whales worldwide, located in at least five groups. More recent research into the Pygmy subspecies suggests this may be an underestimate. Before whaling, the largest population was in the Antarctic, numbering approximately 239,000. There remain only much smaller (around 2,000) concentrations in each of the eastern North Pacific, Antarctic, and Indian Ocean groups. There are two more groups in the North Atlantic, and at least two in the Southern Hemisphere.

The blue whale has a long tapering body that appears stretched in comparison with the stockier build of other whales. The head is flat, U-shaped and has a prominent ridge running from the blowhole to the top of the upper lip. The front part of the mouth is thick with baleen plates; around 300 plates (each around one meter (3.2 ft) long) hang from the upper jaw, running 0.5 m (1.6 ft) back into the mouth. Between 70 and 118 grooves (called ventral pleats) run along the throat parallel to the body length. These pleats assist with evacuating water from the mouth after lunge feeding. Oddly enough, the largest animal on Earth eats one of the tiniest, with krill comprising much of its diet.

Due to its large size, several organs of the blue whale are the largest in the animal kingdom. A blue whale’s tongue weighs around 2.7 metric tons (3.0 short tons) and, when fully expanded, its mouth is large enough to hold up to 90 metric tons (99 short tons) of food and water. Despite the size of its mouth, the dimensions of its throat are such that a blue whale cannot swallow an object wider than a beach ball. Its heart weighs 600 kilograms (1,300 lb) and is the largest known in any animal, while it’s brain is only 15 lb.

Ever since the international ban on whaling of many species including the Blue Whale, Blue Whale populations have very slowly been on the rise. The problem is, it’s much harder to regulate laws in the ocean than on land, let alone an international law that several countries hardly even acknowledge. Most illegal whaling occurs by Japanese, Icelandic, Finnish, and Norwegian whalers.

Conservation status: Endangered