Which Is The Biggest Animal In The World

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A blue whale in Monterey Bay, California. Goldbogen Lab/Duke Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab; NMFS permit 16111

Which Is The Biggest Animal In The World

Which Is The Biggest Animal In The World

Benji Jones is a senior environment reporter covering biodiversity loss and climate change. Before joining, he was a senior energy reporter at Insider. Benji previously worked as a wildlife researcher.

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One of the smallest mammals in the world, the heart of the Etruscan shrew beats incredibly fast – 1500 times or 25 times per minute.

Then there is the heart of the blue whale, the largest animal that ever lived. These giants of the ocean can be longer than two school buses, and their hearts—about the size of loveseats and weighing more than 1,000 pounds—beat twice a minute.

If you put a giant stethoscope in the chest of a blue whale, it might sound like this.

That clip was made using real data scientists collected a few years ago from blue whales in Monterey Bay, California. The heart rate was slow when the animal dived, but when it surfaced to breathe, the rate increased dramatically, reaching a rate of 37 beats per minute.

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In recent years, scientists have discovered how to listen to the heartbeat of wild whales. They are not interested in investigating the habitats of these animals, but in trying to answer one of the most fundamental questions in biology: How big can animals be on Earth?

Measuring the heart rate of blue whales – larger than dinosaurs – shows that body size can be limited by heart size. And with more advanced monitoring tools, scientists can help protect these ocean giants from the ocean’s most mysterious threats.

Short answer: food. Millions of years ago, blue whales evolved to feast on small crustaceans called krill, which are abundant in certain coastal areas part of the year. All that food can fuel a large body, and the large size allowed these animals to take large gulps of krill and swim efficiently from one krill buffet to another.

Which Is The Biggest Animal In The World

But interestingly, there are enough krill and other aquatic animals in the ocean to sustain the whales themselves.

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Diet alone does not limit whales’ potential body size, said Max Zapansky, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford who studies marine mammals. “There must be something that prevents their bodies from getting even bigger,” he said.

Blue whale hearts are preserved by a technique called plastination, in which the water and blubber are replaced with plastic. Bernd Setnik/Chitra Maitri via Getty Images

The whales hold their breath as they feed on the krill, which collects hundreds of feet underwater. This causes carbon dioxide to build up in their blood. When these marine mammals come back to the surface to breathe, their hearts beat faster to get rid of the CO2 and replace it with fresh oxygen so they can dive down and continue eating.

Larger hearts beat more slowly and take longer to fill the body with oxygen. This means whales have to spend more time at the surface, holding their breath, which takes up valuable time to feed on seasonal resources such as krill. Too big a heart and these behemoths may not have enough time to eat.

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If the size of the heart somehow limits whales, these organs should, in theory, increase the speed of the animals when they take to the air. That’s one thing scientists wanted to understand when they measured the heart rates of blue whales in 2018.

There are many ways to measure your heart rate, from simple stethoscopes to wearable devices like Fitbits and Apple Watches. Measuring a whale is very difficult.

These animals are covered in thick blubber and dive several hundred feet, where the pressure is enormous. Even if the heart rate monitor works under these conditions, scientists must find the whale, attach the device and retrieve it.

Which Is The Biggest Animal In The World

Until 2018, scientists could not do this. In late summer, California-based researchers studied a large pod of blue whales in Monterey Bay.

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Researchers from Monterey Bay, California have placed a suction cup sensor on a blue whale. Goldbogen Lab/Duke Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab; NMFS permit 16111

In an inflatable research boat, researchers approached one of them and, using a 20-foot pole, stuck a specialized EKG sensor behind his left flipper. The whale fell, and a few hours later the device floated back to the surface, where researchers were able to retrieve it.

An EKG sensor that measures electrical signals records the animal’s heartbeat for several hours. Where the above video clip comes from: Jessica Kendall-Barr, a marine scientist and artist unaffiliated with the study, converted some of the pulse data into an audio file, which she shared.

But this approach has some serious shortcomings, said Czapanski, who co-authored a 2019 paper based on EKG research. “The error rate is really high,” he said, adding that salt water often interferes with electrical sensors.

Blue Whale The Biggest Animal In The World 24 Meters Long Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 98434299

Therefore, scientists are looking for other methods. In a paper published in May, Czapanskiy showed that a device called an accelerometer that measures animal movement can detect heartbeats.

Max Czapanski, a PhD student at Stanford University, places a sensor on a humpback whale in September 2021. Eliot Hazen

Every time a whale’s heart beats, it sends out a wave of blood that vibrates its body slightly (not unlike how a snake beats when you turn a faucet). When the whale is still, accelerometers can record these subtle movements.

Which Is The Biggest Animal In The World

Like EKG sensors, accelerometers only work when attached to the whale. But these devices offer a big advantage: Scientists have been putting them on whales for about 20 years to measure other things, Czapanskiy said, which means there’s already a lot of potential pulse data to analyze.

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Heart rate data from blue whales shows that these animals have two distinct heartbeats. One of them is slow, like the clip you heard above; Then the whale dives and tries to conserve oxygen. The second is fast, when the whale returns to the surface and its heart races to replenish oxygen.

EKG data shows that one heartbeat of a blue whale takes about 1.8 seconds, meaning the heart only beats about 33 times per minute. But when the whale caught its breath, its heart beat slightly above that number. This points to something critical: The blue whale’s heart is operating at “peak performance,” Czapanski said, and literally cannot beat any faster.

But what to do with body size restrictions? The bigger the whale, the bigger the heart it needs

Food But, again, a bigger heart beats more slowly and requires the animal to spend more time on the surface, which slows down the whale.

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It’s time to feed the wings. So, basically, any bigger, and these animals will not be able to consume enough food to support their voluminous figures.

Therefore, it is difficult for Czapanski to even imagine a fictional animal that evolved larger than the blue whale. These animals live in environments where there is a huge amount of food, but there is a limit to how quickly their bodies can destroy it. Unless a new and massive nutrient-dense food source emerges—or the animal develops a newer and more efficient physiology—the blue whale may not only be the largest animal to have ever lived, but the largest animal to survive, period.

Jeremy Goldbogen, an assistant professor at Stanford and lead author of the 2019 EKG study, said there may be other factors limiting body size, such as the distribution and seasonal abundance of krill. There are open questions about the ecology of blue whales, such as how much time they spend searching for food. And this is where additional research can come in—and Czapanski’s catalytic data.

Which Is The Biggest Animal In The World

Fitting whales with heart rate monitors could benefit the animals. Just as Apple watches detect increased heart rates when we are nervous or afraid, sensors on whales can detect when these animals are stressed.

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The devices could also help solve the enduring mystery of whale strandings, said Dave Haas, a marine scientist and co-founder of FaunaLabs, which develops Fitbit-like devices for whales, dolphins and other animals.

Thousands of whales wash up on the beach every year, and scientists don’t know why. In at least some cases, the streaks appear to be related to marine activity, which some scientists suspect may have been interfered with by the sonar.

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