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Have Baleen Whales Always Been the Largest Animals?

Many whales that are alive today are bigger than even the largest dinosaurs that once roamed the Earth, but this hasn't always been the case. Even the massive blue whale -- the biggest creature in history -- was relatively puny until a few million years ago, when climate change inundated the oceans with an influx of marine life that allowed filter-feeding whales to grow exponentially. These are the findings of a recent collaborative study between the University of Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History that looked back 30 million years and found that even the biggest whales on record from that time were only a few yards (or meters) long. Then, during the ice age of about 3 million years ago, the Earth's ice sheets grew, pushing water deeper and closer to the warm Equator, ultimately resulting in pockets of animal life for whales to feast on. The larger they were, the better they were able to capitalize on these concentrations of tiny marine creatures, so they grew even bigger and were also able to extend their migratory patterns and find even more food.

A whale of a tale:

  • The tongue of a blue whale can weigh as much as an elephant.
  • Blue whales can emit sounds that would drown out a jet: 180 decibels compared with a jet engine's peak of 140 decibels.
  • There are still whales living today that were born before Herman Melville published Moby-Dick in 1851.
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