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The Reason Behind the Blue Whale's Enormous Size

May 25, 2017 09:10 AM EDT
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The sheer size of the blue whale is breathtaking, an animal known as the largest ever to exist. That's right, in the entire history of the planet, no other species was ever bigger than any known dinosaur that walked the Earth.

Part of the baleen family of whales, the blue whale can grow up to nearly 100 feet long and 191 tons heavy. According to a report from Popular Mechanics, the massive size of these whales is partly caused by climate change.

The warming waters have forced krill -- which all baleen whales eat -- into more concentrated parts of the ocean, which means a selection of whales are able to feed on more krill than the rest. Bigger whales like baleens -- blue whales, in particular -- are more efficient in feeding, so they were able to gain the mass over the years, a report from NPR revealed.

This isn't the only reason behind its enormity, though.

"Baleen evolved about 20 million years ago, and we didn't see the evolution of gigantism until about very recently, about 3 million to 5 million years ago," Stanford University's Jeremy Goldbogen pointed out.

Upon studying the data, Goldbogen and his team discovered that the period when the baleens were growing bigger coincided with the beginning of the ice age. The researchers suggested that the dramatic changes in the temperature resulted in more runoff and nutrients in the coasts, as well as ocean upwelling that brings more food from the deep waters to the surface for the whales.

Within a few million years, the body mass of the whales swelled from 10 tons to 100 tons.

"There are cases where food limitation or food production can basically control body size changes on very short time scales," Goldbogen explained. "The inference here is that if you have enough food available and very very efficient animals, that perhaps they can evolve larger and larger body sizes."

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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