Whale, the popular name of the typical or carnivorous cetacean mammals, with fishlike forms, embracing the families halcenidce or baleen whales, pliyseteridm or sperm whales, and delphinidce or dolphins (including besides the dolphins the porpoises, grampus, and narwhal, described under their respective titles). The first two families are of enormous size, with a disproportionately large head, the body tapering posteriorly and ending in a broad tail whose flukes extend horizontally; this tail, the principal organ in swimming, and especially in coming to the surface for respiration, is supported on a firm cartilaginous basis, having neither bones nor caudal rays; the anterior limbs are converted into fins, enclosed in a uniform skin, but containing the usual bones of the vertebrate arm, though much shortened and with more numerous phalanges; the sacrum and posterior limbs are wanting, the only traces being a pair of V-shaped pelvic bones, suspended among the muscles and detached from the spine; V-shaped bony arches extend from the upper caudal vertebrae, gradually growing smaller toward the end of the tail.
The cranium is very small, the chief bulk of the head being made up of the facial bones; though the cervical vertebrae are evident in the skeleton, generally consolidated with the exception of the first, there is externally no trace of neck; the nostrils open on the top of the head, by a double or single foramen, constituting the blow-holes or spiracles, for respiration and the expulsion of water, and not for the exercise of smell; there is no external ear, and the auditory opening is extremely small to prevent the undue access of water; air penetrates into the large Eustachian tubes through the blow-holes, permitting the appreciation of sounds both in the water and in the air; the eyes are small, and apparently very far back on account of the development of the face. The head forms one quarter or one third of the total length of the body, and the skull is usually unsymmetrical, the right side being larger than the left; the petrous portion of the temporal bone is attached to the skull by cartilage; the mouth is very wide, and the jaws are armed with plates of whalebone or numerous conical teeth.
The skin is naked, with the exception of a few bristles about the jaws, and beneath it is a thick coating of fat or blubber, preserving the temperature of the body and reducing its specific gravity, and affording the oil for which these animals are chiefly pursued. The older naturalists regarded the blubber as subcutaneous, but more recent observations show it to be a part of the true skin, the fibres forming an open network in which the fat is held. The skin is infested with parasites, especially the crustacean cyamvs ceti (Lam.) or whale louse, and barnacles and mollusks are often found attached to the sperm whale and rorqual. The flesh is red, firm, and coarse; the bones are less compact than in terrestrial mammals, and without medullary cavity. During respiration the conical larynx projects upward into the posterior nares, and is closely embraced by the muscles of the soft palate, opening a free passage from the lungs externally through the blow-holes, even though the whole head be submerged and the mouth filled with water.
In the expulsion of water (which is denied by some and admitted by others), it is forced into the nasal cavities while the animal performs the act of swallowing, the pharynx being closed to prevent its passage beyond the proper point, and the forcible contraction of the muscles surrounding the passages sends it out in a jet; expiration, carrying with it a jet of vapor, is performed in a similar manner. Though all are carnivorous, the stomach has from three to six compartments. In order to provide a constant supply of arterial blood during submersion, there are plexuses of arteries within the chest near the spine. (See Dolphin.) - The whales embrace the largest of living animals, and have been known in all ages, but were generally and naturally enough regarded as fishes even by naturalists to the time of Linnaeus; they are, however, true mammals, warm-blooded, air-breathing, bringing forth their young (usually one) alive, and suckling them for a considerable period by means of two abdominal mammae.
They mostly occur in large shoals in the arctic and antarctic seas, and are often seen sporting on the surface of the ocean; that the pectorals are not locomotive organs, but balancers and rudders, might be supposed from their small size when compared with the tail; when life is extinct they fall over on the back; the young are also held by these limbs. - In the balcenidoe or baleen whales there are no teeth in the adult, but there are in the embryo, though from the early ossification and coalescence of the groove in which they lie, they do not come into view; the mouth is provided with numerous plates of the horny substanoe well known as whalebone or baleen; along the centre of the palate runs a strong ridge, and on each side of this a wide depression along which the plates are inserted; these are long and flat, hanging free, placed transversely, with their sides parallel and near each other; the base and outer edge are solid whalebone, but the inner edge is fringed, filling up the interior of the mouth and acting as a strainer for the food, which consists chiefly of the small swimming mollusks and medusae or jelly fishes.
The baleen rarely, if ever, swallows anything larger than a herring; shoals of these small creatures are entangled in the fibres of the baleen, the water which does not escape by the mouth being expelled by the blow-holes; though the cavity of the mouth is large enough to contain a ship's long boat, the opening of the gullet is not larger than a man's fist. The lower jaw has neither baleen nor teeth, but has large fleshy lips, within which the upper is received when the mouth is closed. In the genus baloena (Linn.) there is no dorsal fin; the baleen whales with a dorsal fin have been described under Rorqual. The right or Greenland whale (B. mystieetus, Linn.) attains a length of 60 to TO ft., the tail being 5 or 6 ft. long and 20 to 25 ft. wide; the general color is blackish above and grayish white below; pectorals 8 to 9 ft. long and 4 or 5 ft. wide; the mouth is 15 or 16 ft. long, 6 to 8 ft. wide, and 10 to 12 ft. high inside, presenting a sigmoid curve when shut; the eyes are not larger than those of an ox, with a white iris, and placed about a foot obliquely above and behind the angle of the mouth; the tongue is soft, thick, fatty, and very slightly movable; the tail is of immense power.
The ordinary rate of progress is 4 or 5 m. an hour; they swim not far beneath the surface, and throw themselves in sport entirely out of water; they are fond of immersing the body perpendicularly and flapping the tail on the surface, making a sound heard for 2 or 3 miles; they usually come up every 8 or 10 minutes, but can remain down half an hour or more; they generally keep on the surface about two minutes, during which they blow eight or nine times, and then descend; they feed swimming just below the surface, with the mouth wide open. They are found in most parts of the arctic seas. Gestation has been variously placed at 9 to 15 or 18 months; the young measures at birth 10 to 14 ft. in length, and is tenderly cared for by the mother for a year or more; during nursing they gently roll from side to side horizontally, so that each in turn may have an opportunity to breathe; the young furnish but little oil, and are never struck by the harpoon unless to capture the mother by means of her affection for her progeny. According to Prof. J. Wyman, in an embryo 6 in. long, the tail was rounded as in the manatee, with a vertical crest above and below it, and the thymus gland very large, almost enveloping the heart.
The southern or Cape whale (B. australis, Desmoulins) attains a length of 50 or 60 ft., and has a relatively smaller head than the northern species; it inhabits the southern ocean, generally near the coast, and in comparatively shallow water; it goes up the Pacific even to Japan and Kamtchatka, the Atlantic as far as the United States, and all along the African coasts; it is hunted in summer, when the shoals come near the shore to produce their young; the principal fisheries are about New Zealand and S. Africa. - The family physeteridoe or catodontidoe, or the sperm whales, have no baleen nlates, but 40 to 50 conical teeth in the lower jaw with internal cavities; this is shorter and narrower than the upper, and completely enclosed by it when the mouth is shut; the teeth fit into cavities in the upper jaw, which has some rudimentary teeth concealed in the gums; the head is of enormous size, one third the whole length of the body, nearly cylindrical, truncated in front with a single f-shaped blow-hole in the anterior margin of the snout; the greater part of the bulk of the head is made up of a cartilaginous envelope or "case," containing an oily fluid hardening on exposure to the air, and well known as spermaceti; there is a false fin or protuberance on the hind part of the back.
The old genus physeter (Linn.) has been variously subdivided by modern authors, and not always on what seem sufficient grounds. The best known and largest of the sperm whales is the P. maerocephulus (Shaw), or blunt-headed cachalot of the whalemen; it belongs to the genus catodon of Lacépède. The males attain a length of 60 to 75 ft., and the females are about half as long; the color is blackish and greenish gray above, whitish beneath and about the eyes. The skeleton is very similar to that of the dolphin, except in the head; the cervicals are 7 and united except the first, dorsals 14 or 15 with as many pairs of ribs, and the other vertebras 38 to 40, with strong processes and of nearly the same size to within seven or eight of the end; the pectoral limbs are 4 to 6 ft. long and 2 to 3 ft. wide; dorsal protuberance about 2 ft. high, and blow-hole about a foot long; eyes larger than in the right whale, and tongue thick and soft; mammas about a foot in diameter, concealed in folds of the skin, with a nipple several inches long; the mouth is immense, and the gullet is capable of swallowing an object as large as a man.
They are distributed in all seas, but principally in those of the southern hemisphere, living in deep water and very rarely approaching land; they are usually seen in companies of 20 to 50 females and young, with one or two old males or bulls; they feed chiefly on cuttle fishes and other cephalopodous mollusks abundant in the southern seas; the males fight savagely, as their distorted and broken jaws fully testify. Inspiration must be very quickly performed, as the nose is rarely out of water more than a few seconds at a time; they make 60 or 70 respirations while remaining about 10 minutes at the surface; when the spoutings are over, if undisturbed they descend, remaining down from half an hour to an hour. They are eagerly hunted, as their oil is the finest for burning, and the spermaceti valuable for the manufacture of candles and for medical purposes; ambergris, highly prized in the making of perfumery, is also a product of the intestines of the sperm whale; the blanket or blubber of a single individual will yield 80 or more barrels of oil; the spermaceti is contained in tendinous compartments communicating with each other, and the product of a single one is sometimes more than a ton; as a rough estimate, the yield of spermaceti is about one fifth that of oil.
Though naturally timid, it is more dangerous to attack than the baleen whale, both the tail and teeth being used as offensive weapons, and a whole shoal sometimes coming to the assistance of a wounded comrade; the stoutest ship will spring a leak after being struck by the head of one of these immense creatures. Other smaller species are found in the northern seas. - The beluga or white whale, and the deductor or gloMcephalus, have been described under Dolphin. The diodons have no teeth in the upper jaw, only two in the lower, a depressed forehead, and the lower jaw much larger than the upper; a rare species is found in the Mediterranean, 15 or 16 ft. long. The hyperoodon or bottle-nosed whale of Honfleur has a rounded and prominent forehead, a short and strong beak; it is rare, and attains a length of 20 to 25 ft. In the aodon or toothless whale of Havre, the body is fusiform, with a distinct appearance of neck, jaws prolonged into a cylindrical beak without teeth; it attains a length of 15 to 20 ft., is very rare, and seems to connect the whale with the dolphin family. - Fossil whales have been found in the upper tertiary and the diluvial formations of America and Europe; their remains have been obtained in the Green mountains near Lake Champlain, 60 ft. above the lake and 150 ft. above the sea, in clay strata, one of the great number of proofs of an ancient distribution of land and water upon this continent very different from the present, and of remarkable changes of level. - The grampus, a cetacean of the dolphin family, is generally called the killer, from the belief, probably well founded, that it attacks the baleen whale in herds, biting it to death'.
Eight Whale (Balsena mystieetus).
Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus).
Skull of Sperm Whale.