10 Big Facts About Whales That Will Blow Your Mind

Published on March 15, 2024

Credit: Andrew Bain

Whales are among the most majestic creatures to roam the oceans, captivating humans with their immense size, mysterious habits, and intriguing behaviors. From their extraordinary communication skills to their incredible migratory journeys, whales continue to fascinate scientists and nature enthusiasts alike.

Here are 10 captivating facts about these marine giants that will leave you in awe.


Whales Are Mammals, Not Fish

Credit: Will Turner

Despite their aquatic lifestyle, whales are actually mammals, belonging to the order Cetacea. This means that, just like us, they breathe air, give birth to live young, nurse their offspring with milk, and possess hair (albeit very little of it). And whales are more related to us than you would think. The evolutionary journey that leads from their land-dwelling ancestors to the oceanic behemoths of today is one of the most remarkable stories in the animal kingdom.


Blue Whales Are Earth's Largest Creatures

Credit: Georg Wolf

Blue whales hold the title of being the largest animals that have ever existed on Earth, ever. Take a minute to take this in. This means that they even surpass the size of the largest dinosaurs found. These magnificent creatures can grow up to a staggering 110 feet in length and weigh as much as 200 tons. To support their massive bodies, blue whales consume enormous quantities of krill, small shrimp-like creatures, every day during their feeding season.


Humpback Whales Have Unique Songs

Credit: Kelly Sikkema

Humpback whales are renowned for their haunting and complex songs, which can last for hours and be heard over great distances. These songs are believed to play a role in mating rituals and communication among individuals. What's particularly fascinating is that humpback whale songs not only evolve over time, with new phrases being added and old ones fading away, but also change according to the region, suggesting a cultural aspect to their communication.


Sperm Whales Are Deep Diving Champions

Credit: Alex Haney

Sperm whales are the deepest diving mammals on the planet, capable of descending to depths of over 10,000 feet for over an hour. Their ability to dive to such extreme depths is facilitated by their uniquely adapted physiology, including collapsible rib cages and lungs, and the ability to increase the amount of oxygen molecules stored in their muscles, among many other extreme adaptations to the immense pressures of the deep ocean.


Orcas Are The Apex Predators of the Sea

Credit: Thomas Lipke

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are apex predators that inhabit oceans worldwide, capable of hunting even the dreaded great white shark. Being formidable hunters, they prey on a variety of marine mammals and fish, and can even attack boats if they feel threatened. But while they are extremely fast swimmers and have sharp teeth over 3 inches long, their deadliest weapon, by far, is their complex brain. Orcas are highly intelligent and social animals, and their clever hunting strategies keep them at the top of the food chain.


Not All Whales Have Teeth

Credit: Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0

Whales can be categorized into two main groups based on their feeding mechanisms: baleen whales and toothed whales. Baleen whales, such as humpbacks and blue whales, have baleen plates in their mouths instead of teeth. These are hair-like structures, which they use to filter small prey like krill and plankton from the water. Toothed whales, like sperm whales and orcas, instead have sets of ordinary teeth and use them to feed on larger prey such as fish, squid, and even other marine mammals.


Whale Migrations Span Thousands of Miles

Credit: Karl-Heinz Müller

Many whale species undertake epic migratory journeys covering thousands of miles each year. These migrations are driven by factors such as mating, feeding, and seasonal changes in temperature and food availability. For example, gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal, traveling over 10,000 miles annually between their breeding grounds in warm tropical waters and their feeding grounds in cold Arctic seas.


Whales Play Vital Roles in Ecosystems

Credit: Humberto Braojos

As apex predators and key consumers in marine food webs, whales play crucial roles in maintaining the health and balance of ocean ecosystems. By controlling populations of both prey and predator species, they help prevent overgrazing of marine habitats and promote biodiversity. Additionally, their nutrient-rich feces support the growth of phytoplankton, which both serves as the foundation of marine food chains and contributes to carbon sequestration from the atmosphere.


Whales Were Hunted For Their Unique Resources

Credit: Gabriel Dizzi

Whales have long been hunted by humans for their meat, blubber, and other resources. During the beginning of the 20th century, many whale species were hunted for their oil-rich blubber, used as fuel for lamps in early industrialized cities. That led to a catastrophic decline in whale populations, with some species pushed to the brink of extinction. Fortunately, since commercial whaling was largely banned in the 1980s, whale populations are showing a steady recovery, though they are still threatened by pollution and the warming of the oceans.


Whale Watching Is A Thriving Global Industry

Credit: Davide Cantelli

We might not be actively hunting whales as in the past, but we still want to encounter these gentle giants of the ocean. In recent decades, whale watching has emerged as a popular and sustainable form of eco-tourism, providing people with the opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats while raising awareness (and funds) for marine conservation.


Worldly Wisdom: 10 Libraries Totally Worth Traveling To

Published on March 15, 2024

Credit: Gabriel Sollmann

In a fast-paced world where information is often reduced to a few characters, there's a haven that stands the test of time—the library. Beyond the unique scent of ancient pages, these bastions of knowledge are a true treasure for the curious, guarding the boundless realms of imagination and human history.

So, let’s embark on a literary pilgrimage around the world! In this article, we will explore 10 wonderful libraries that are totally worth visiting at least once.


Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Credit: Daniela Martinez

Nestled in the heart of Mexico City, this architectural marvel is a bibliophile's dream. With transparent walls and hanging bookshelves arranged in an Escher-like fashion, it's a testament to modern design. The library houses an extensive collection of over 600,000 volumes, and the sheer scale of the building creates an immersive reading experience. The building is also home to a large collection of art and sculptures by various Mexican artists, like the one pictured above.


The Royal Library of Denmark

Credit: Sintakso, CC BY-SA 4.0

Often referred to as the "Black Diamond" due to its black granite exterior, this library seamlessly blends tradition and innovation in the heart of Copenhagen. Housing around 40 million items, the Royal Library is not just a repository of books but also a cultural hub, hosting concerts, exhibitions, and events. And even if you are not a bookworm, the panoramic views of the waterfront from its windows make it a must for any visitor to Copenhagen.


Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Credit: Abdallah Foley

A resurrection of the ancient library that once housed the knowledge of the ancient world, the modern Library of Alexandria (called Bibliotheca Alexandrina ) is a symbol of Egypt's commitment to its intellectual revival. It hosts millions of books, a planetarium, and a manuscript restoration center, making it a beacon for scholars and history enthusiasts. The library also houses the International School of Information Science. This school prepares students for specialized post-graduate degrees, aiming to train library professionals in Egypt and the Middle East.


Trinity College Library

Credit: Giammarco Boscaro

Located in Dublin, Ireland, and home to the famous Book of Kells, the Trinity College Library is a feast for the eyes. The Long Room, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling and marble busts of great thinkers, conjures a timeless charm. And counting among its graduates celebrated writers like Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde, this library holds a special allure for history and literature enthusiasts, making it a must-visit pilgrimage site.


The Bodleian Library

Credit: Luna Bear

Steeped in tradition and history, Oxford’s Bodleian Library is one of the oldest in Europe and the second-largest in Britain after the British Library. With over 13 million items in its collections, including a Gutenberg Bible (one of the only 21 surviving copies) and many of Shakespeare’s original works, it's a place where every corner whispers tales of the past. Also, The Radcliffe Camera—the most iconic building in the University of Oxford—is, in fact, part of the Bodleian Library, so don’t skip it!


The National Library of China

Credit: IQRemix from Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0

If you are planning a visit to the Celestial Empire, don’t miss China’s magnificent National Library! With a collection of over 41 million items, the library is certainly a bibliophile's utopia. Besides its impressive collection, holding the largest collection of Chinese literature and historical documents in the world, it offers a serene reading and research environment. It is the perfect place to immerse oneself in the world of Chinese history. The only issue is that you definitely should learn to read Chinese beforehand!


The National Library of Australia

Credit: Kgbo, CC BY-SA 4.0

Found in the heart of Canberra, Australia's capital, this library is a treasure trove of the nation's history and culture. The library's striking architecture and vast collection, including rare maps and manuscripts, make it a must-visit for those eager to delve into Australia's rich literary heritage. While you should expect a large Australian collection, it also houses unique Asian and Pacific collections that give it international renown.


Vennesla Library and Culture House

Credit: Berswin, CC BY-SA 4.0

It seems like the Scandinavians like to break the mold of conventional library design, and this library in Norway is no exception, being a true architectural marvel. With its timber-clad exterior and open, welcoming spaces, it is designed and projected not only as a library but as a community hub. The library seamlessly integrates with the cultural center, something more libraries should try to encourage!


Royal Portuguese Reading Room

Credit: Donatas Dabravolskas, CC BY-SA 4.0

A hidden gem in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, this library is a celebration of Portuguese language literature and culture. An iconic landmark of the city, it has been used as a filming location for movies and TV shows because of its stunning beauty. The ornate neo-Manueline architecture (evoking a Gothic-Renaissance style), adorned with statues and intricate woodwork, transports visitors to another era. Also, the library's collection includes rare works and first editions, making it a must for bibliophiles.


Strahov Monastery Library

Credit: Y.Shishido, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tucked away in a monastery in Prague, in the Czech Republic, this library offers a glimpse into the medieval world. With over 200,000 volumes, it is one of the best-preserved historical libraries in the world. The Baroque architecture, coupled with ceiling frescoes, medieval art exhibits, as well as its many ancient manuscripts and globes, creates an atmosphere of historical charm, becoming an enchanting pilgrimage site for those seeking the quiet wisdom of centuries past.

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