If you compare the size and brute strength of a whale with a human, this match up should be a no brainer. The size of a blue whale is about 82 feet and up to 330,000 lbs while a human is roughly 6 feet and 200 lbs. The whale wins this battle right? Historically speaking, the answer to this question is NO. This battle of man’s dominance over nature goes back quite a ways, just ask Ahab about his pursuit of the classic sperm whale known as Moby Dick. Whether man was more interested in climbing to the tip-top of the food chain or whether they were more interested in valuable resources the whale could offer, one thing is clear once the dust had settled from this battle–the whale fights back and has an amazing tale of evolution to tell.
Since the mid eighteenth century humans have been hunting whales. Whaling, the term given for “whale hunting,” was commonly practiced by humans to harvest the valuable resource known as “spermaceti.” This thick white oil was harvested from the dead whale and used as an energy source as well as a household appliance. One large sperm whale could yield up to three metric tons of spermaceti and it is estimated that at least 700,000 sperm whales were slaughtered for the precious white oil. But through evolution, the whale did not just sit idly by as man went whale head hunting. In fact, in some instances, the whale used its size as an advantage and fought back by ramming whaling boats. But let’s discuss some other evolutionary advantages the whale developed to help it survive these many years.
Size and intelligence are among the top advantages the whale has over other species in the animal kingdom. They are capable of rational thought and are incredibly social animals given their clicking and singing adaptations to communicate with one another. Similar to bats, they can also use a form of echolocation to locate prey and family members. Like many mammals, the whale’s size is advantageous for attracting a mate. The female whales are attracted to the biggest and strongest males as they headbutt each other in contest for the rights to the female. The thick, oily, spermaceti-filled head is also an evolutionary adaptation used cushion impact when in combat and to aid in the interpretation and production of sound waves underwater. But perhaps the best way for whales to avoid predation from their human rivals was their ability to dive deep. Sperm whale routinely dive at depths of up to 2000 meters to hunt for food. This ability to venture into the depths of the ocean has reduced their risk of being over-hunted.
Ramming whaling boats was enough of a warning sign and caused humans to use their superior intellect to invent a newer, more efficient way to hunt whales. They deployed the explosive harpoon to make whale killing quicker, easier, and safer. Thankfully, other energy sources which were easier to harvest, like petroleum, were discovered and whale hunting practices declined. Plus, whales began to be celebrated for their intelligence and incredible evolutionary adaptations which led to the worldwide whaling ban. Even though the whale is still considered “vulnerable,” they have proven to be evolutionarily dominant and resilient creatures.
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