The other weekend I had an existential crisis about how large whales are. I mean, not many people have seen one up close unless you’ve been to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Naturally, I fell into a rabbit hole of whale facts that I will shamelessly share now.
Scale of the Animal
Whales are big, that goes without saying. But putting their size into perspective has blown my mind a lot, especially given that they’re the largest creature to have ever existed. By largest, they’re taking into account that they weigh a ton. My studio apartment (and yours) can probably fit in its mouth. I found it hard to believe that something 100 feet long can possible exist, let alone exist in a peaceful state where it only eats the tiniest of food. When crafting ocean environments, I think keeping in mind how big animals are is important for world building. On land, it’s hard to picture because the largest beast I can think that’s still alive is the elephant and I’m pretty sure they can fit in a blue whale’s mouth too.
Scale of the Ocean
So whales are huge, but the ocean is even larger. My mind erupted from learning about the scale of one whale when compared to all the whales (12,000 whales left averaging 170 tons). That is only one species of whale and there several similarly large species of whale. And they eat krill. With whales being so big, how are there any krill left? The biomass of just one krill species averages 500 million tonnes. Which is far more than all the whales combined. The ocean is so large that you have all this stuff floating around and no one has any idea. Boats can float for ages without hitting another boat. Whales can float for ages without hitting anything. And the ocean floor? That’s another level of horror I’ll explore during the next oceanic crisis.
Where Do Whales Go When They Die?
Speaking of the ocean floor, I am so excited to talk about whale falls. A whale fall happens when a whale dies and its body sinks to the bottom of the ocean because decomposition chemistry messes with its buoyancy. Kind of boring until the carcass crashes and all these organisms arrive to the party. It’s unclear how the hagfish and bacteria know how to get there. It’s like a shockwave of chemicals goes out into the ocean and they come rushing in. The whale’s corpse then becomes a new, evolving ecosystem that eventually ends in toxic sulfur vents. It sounds like the stuff of nightmares and I’m looking forward to incorporating somehow in a future nightmare.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration on whales. There may be more to come. Who knows.