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We always knew that baleen whales were pigs (like, BIG pigs), but we were way off in realizing just how gluttonous those goliaths of the seas really are.
Because these marine giants are so big – they include the blue whale (the largest animal in history), the humpback whale, and the right whale, among others – it's always been easier to estimate how much krill and zooplankton they feast on than try to test it scientifically. But Matthew Savoca, a Stanford postdoctoral researcher, wasn't happy with guesswork, so he and an international team used drones and other tracking technologies to put a precise value on the whales' voraciousness.
Shockingly, it turns out that baleen whales consume (literally) tons more than we thought. For example, a blue whale consumes an average of 16 tons of krill every day, or about three times more than previously believed. The researchers say that the findings could lead to improvements in ocean ecosystems, including a better understanding of how to protect the threatened whales.
Whale of a tale:
- Unlike baleen whales, the other suborder of whale, toothed whales can digest fish and squid after chewing them up in their teeth, which baleen whales do not possess.
- The waters around Antarctica were once home to more than 225,000 blue whales; today, they number only about 3,000.
- At just 20 feet (6.1 m) in length, the pygmy right whale is the smallest baleen whale in the ocean.