Cetacea – Whales & dolphins
In the great depths of ocean mysteries, one of the most specialized and unique orders of mammals evolved. Highly intelligent, peaceful, communicative, and social animals, these inhabitants of the open sea subsist on animal substances.
Cetaceans evolved from a group of short, four-legged landlubbers that existed around 48 million years ago, but the definite point of origin is still unknown. They are the only mammals besides sea cows that have completely adapted to marine life.
In 1986, the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling, yet Japan, Canada, the US, Russia, South Korea, Canada, Iceland, Denmark & Norway continue to hunt whales. These peaceful mammals are mainly hunted for blubber- the thick outer shell of their body fat that helps regulate temperature.
There are two suborders of Cetacea: baleen whales (mysticetes), having the upper jaw furnished with plates of baleen for straining food from marine water, and toothed whales (odontocetes), which possess a variable number of simplified conical teeth. Cetaceans are the large-scale nutrient distributor in the ocean ecosystem.
Families in this order
Captured the hearts and minds of humans for centuries, with bubbly personalities and intelligence challenging our own
The Cuvier’s beaked whale is the deepest diving mammal, reaching a depth of nearly 3km (1.85 miles) in a single breath
This family includes the Vaquitas of Mexico: the smallest and most endangered cetaceans
These smaller sperm whales have an inky defense mechanism, releasing up to 12 liters of inky red fluid to confuse potential predators
The fantastical family of two: meet the white whales and unicorns of the Arctic sea
The smallest of the river dolphins and the only one that swims in saltwater oceans
The baiji were the sole survivors of their family before human activity drove them recently to extinction
Flagship species, powerful indicators of the biodiversity present in their riverine homes
The family of the largest river dolphins inhabits South America’s freshwater river basins
Owners of the largest brain on Earth, five times heavier than a human’s
The family of majestic giants of the ocean, the largest animals to have ever lived
Distinguished from other whales by arched upper jaws in their exceptionally large heads
The smallest baleen whale
Once called ‘devil fish’ by whalers due to their fighting behavior when hunted