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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: carcharodon megalodon (1)

The biggest whale

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by Nicole K
Publish date
8 June 2012
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Your Question: Is the Whale Shark the biggest whale in the sea?

Whale Sharks are certainly big. The largest recorded was over 12 metres long!

A Whale Shark <i>Rhincodon typus</i> A Whale Shark Rhincodon typus
Image: Shiyam ElkCloner
Source: Shiyam ElkCloner, Wikimedia Commons
 

But Whale Sharks are not whales; they're sharks – the largest shark in the sea. Twelve-metre sharks might sound terrifying, but Whale Sharks are filter feeders. They eat plankton.

  A Whale Shark in the waters off Tofo Beach, Mozambique. A Whale Shark in the waters off Tofo Beach, Mozambique
Image: Jon Hanson
Source: Jon Hanson, Wikimedia Commons
 

The Whale Shark is not, however, the largest shark that ever lived. That was Carcharocles megalodon, popularly known as the Megalodon. Fossils indicate that this species grew to 16 metres long. Unlike the gentle Whale Shark, Megalodon was the stuff of nightmares. A formidable hunter, Megalodon had the largest teeth of any shark, immensely powerful jaws and enormous speed. Thankfully, Megalodon lived 28 to 1.5 million years ago.

The now extinct <i>Carcharodon megalodon</i> had the biggest teeth of any known shark species. Palaeontologists have found fossil Megalodon teeth that are 18cm long! The now extinct Carcharodon megalodon had the biggest teeth of any known shark species. Palaeontologists have found fossil Megalodon teeth that are 18cm long!
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The largest whale in the sea is the Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus. They are truly enormous. There is a complete skeleton of a Blue Whale on display at the Melbourne Museum. It's a whopping 17.2 metres long, but that's actually not that big in Blue Whale terms.

The Pygmy Blue Whale on display at the Melbourne Museum (<i>Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda</i>) The Pygmy Blue Whale on display at the Melbourne Museum (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda)
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Melbourne Museum's Blue Whale is a Pygmy Blue Whale (the smallest of the three subspecies of Blue Whale) and it's not fully grown. It's only about half the length of the longest Blue Whale on record, which measured 33.58 metres! That is about as long as a Boeing 737 jet aeroplane. This not only makes Blue Whales the largest whales in the sea; it makes them the largest animal that ever lived!

The comparative sizes of a Blue Whale, a human and a Hector's Dolphin, the smallest cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) The comparative sizes of a Blue Whale, a human and a Hector's Dolphin, the smallest cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises)
Image: T. Bjornstad
Source: T. Bjornstad, Wikimedia Commons
 

Sharks and whales are very different creatures. Sharks are fish; most are ectothermic ("cold-blooded") and breathe underwater through gills. Whales are mammals; they are endothermic ("warm-blooded"), breathe air and feed milk to their young. Blue Whales, like (almost) all mammals, give birth to live young – the biggest babies in the world. A newborn Blue Whale is as big as an elephant!

Links

MV Blog: Whale vs Shark

Megalodon: Fossil Shark Tooth

InfoSheet: Shark Teeth

InfoSheet: Blue Whale

Treasures: Blue Whale

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