The blue whale is the largest creature that has ever lived—far heavier than even the most burly dinosaur. A big female can outweigh every player in the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball combined. Its mouth can gulp more than 50,000 litres of seawater. A newborn can be seven metres long and gain 18,000 kilograms in four months—about four kilos per hour. But the largest of all animals is also one of the least understood.
A hundred years ago, whalers learned just enough to find them, chase them down and blast them with grenade-tipped harpoons. Whalers in the Antarctic killed some 330,000 blues in just 60 years—less than the lifespan of an individual whale. The most majestic animals in the ocean were almost wiped out so humans could render them into margarine and soap. When the killing stopped in the late 1960s, there were so few blue whales left that most people believed extinction was a certainty. In the years that followed, however, humanity’s relationship with the species changed completely.
“Perhaps more than any single animal,” writes one conservationist, “the blue whale stimulated the resurgence of public interest in ecology.” Now, four decades later, scientists have learned an enormous amount about these whales. They can identify individuals through photographs and biopsies. They attach instruments to the whales’ bodies to study behviour that was once a complete mystery: how they dive, how they feed and where they migrate.
Underwater microphones listen in on the whales’ haunting, low-frequency calls, the most powerful sounds made by any animal. Researchers have answered many questions, but the blue whale does not give up its secrets easily. Equal parts history and science, Wild Blue is the first comprehensive portrait of the blue whale—a journey into the world of an animal that went to hell and is slowly making its way back.