London Natural History Museum: The Blue Whale

By Student Group

The 9th grade biology students recently traveled to London for a week-long field trip to many historical sites.  The students spent three hours exploring the Natural History Museum.  The following is the second in a series of posts written by the students to discuss what they learned.

by Emily, Gabby, and Nick

As a ninth grade student at Staten Island Academy, it has recently become tradition to visit the aesthetic and renowned city of London during mid-November. Just a short week go, the ninth grade packed up and headed to London and had the privilege to see many famous sites and museums that are located there, one of them being the Natural History Museum. While at this museum, we had the chance to speak to a prominent scientist named Dr. David Ng who showed us around the riveting Darwin Cocoon, we explored our assigned exhibits, and afterward, we were able to tour different areas of the museum we hadn’t already seen. It was extremely interesting and very fascinating to see the Darwin Cocoon because our class had spent a plethora of time studying Darwin and his theory of evolution. Also, our group was assigned the mammal and whale exhibit, which taught us much about the blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, and about different mammals in general. We took copious notes and viewed different models of mammals, like tigers and rhinoceroses. Eventually, we reached the huge life-size model of the blue whale, which was definitely the highlight of our exhibit, and maybe even the highlight of our whole visit to the museum. Overall, our group learned so many astonishing facts about nature and different organisms, and we had a truly amazing experience!

Our first stop at the Natural History Museum was the Darwin Cocoon, a massive egg shaped structure within the museum that housed an incredible number of different organisms and information on the science of nature. We had the privilege of having scientist Dr. David Ng talk to us before we went inside. Ng spoke about all the basic topics we would find in the cocoon and explained to us in a way that made everything from peer review to Biology novels written years ago very easy to understand, and this made us really believe that Ng knew what he was talking about and well understood his work. Once in the cocoon, you will see that the exhibit has brilliant interactive displays such as touch screen panels and films that allow you to learn hands on about DNA, trees of life, peer review, the journeys some scientists have taken, discoveries made, and so much more! In the cocoon you can even see scientists hard at work, and if you’re lucky you will have the chance to interact with them. Being in the Darwin Cocoon truly tied together all that we learned in class about Darwin, his theories, and the connection of all living things, an experience that cannot be forgotten.

The mammal exhibit in the Natural History Museum was fascinating, and our group was particularly interested in the blue whale display. This sparked interest more towards the whale portion of the exhibit. In this exhibit a whole section is dedicated to the mating of whales. Mating is essential for the species to reproduce and pass along its genes. What is particularly interesting about blue whale mating patterns is that we have limited information about such massive animals. So far, we can infer that the songs the blue whales sing are used to attract mates, blue whales are thought to mate for life, they migrate to warmer waters for mating which occurs from late fall to early spring, and female whales reproduce once every two to three years. Whales in general that live in groups tend to have mating rituals. When the blue whale makes a mating call it is generally much louder and deeper then others to reach farther away so a potential mate might hear the call from far away, being that blue whale do not live in groups. The mating rituals of blue whales can largely differ from the mating rituals of another species of whales such as the sperm whales. Sperm whales tend to travel in groups. Once the group finds a female, they will fight to mate with her. Most whales use mating calls to attract a mate, and some fight to mate. Although this is evident with some species of whales, we don’t know all mating patterns of whales, and we will have to wait for more information to come to light to be able to definitely say what the mating patterns are.

The blue whale, a truly enormous animal, is the largest organism to have ever lived on the earth. This vast mammal can weigh up to approximately 150-200 tons and measures up to around 100 feet and is as large as a Boeing jet! In order to fathom just how humongous this creature is, it’s heart is as large as a small car, 50 people can stand on its tongue, and it’s spout shoots up at least 30 feet of water. Being that the whale is a mammal rather than a fish, it is warm-blooded, it has lungs, and provides milk for its offspring. A blue whale cannot actually breathe underwater, but they come up for air every couple of minutes and take in the oxygen and shoot out water from their blowhole. Also, a baby blue whale drinks about 50 gallons of its mother’s milk per day, meaning that the baby whale is gaining approximately 200 pounds a day in its first weeks of life! Starting at 6 months of age, all blue whales eat very diminutive shrimp-like creatures known as krill. Because the krill are less than 1/1000 of the whale’s size, the whale must consume up to 40 million krill in one day. Blue whales are baleen whales, which means that they have large fringed plates, called baleen, fastened to their upper jaw. This baleen is made out of the same material that our fingernails are made up of. In order to eat the krill, the whale expands its stomach and the creased skin on its throat and gulps up a massive amount of water. Then, the whale’s tongue forces the excess water out through the baleen and tons of krill are left behind for the whale to feast on. Although tremendous, the blue whale is actually quite harmless and is truly a magnificent creature!

Blue whales inhabit mostly every ocean in the world and are commonly spotted in the Southern Hemisphere. Since these animals are so large, they must often reside in deep waters.  Water temperature also plays a big role on the area in which blue whales choose to live. The blue whale is very frequently found in cold water, and they are seldom seen swimming in warm temperatures.  Blue whales are able to live in the cold temperatures because of their blubber, which keeps them warm. A fully grown blue whale has 31 tonnes of blubber, which insulates it and acts as a food reserve. The main areas that these whales live in, with the highest population, is in between Alaska and Costa Rica.  In the summer time they migrate to the California waters, and in the winter time they travel to temperate waters, which is where they reproduce. Blue whales migrate all over the world, but the blue whale has a special job in the Pacific Ocean, which is their winter breeding area.

As you can see this London trip was strongly educational, but at the same time fun. At the Natural History Museum, we were able to visit multiple exhibits, and learn about all different parts of life.  From the Darwin Cocoon which blended science and technology, for hands on activities to seeing all different specimens, and scientist at work, which was extraordinary! Then going to the Blue Whale exhibit to be up close and personal to a model of an endangered species, the blue whale.  We were able to learn about many of the characteristics of this colossal animal.  It showed communication, feeding, and much more.  Luckily, we had the privilege of going to this breath-taking museum!

Why have blue whales recently become endangered? What steps have been taken to prevent their extinction? What are other examples of baleen whales and how do they differ from the blue whale?


  • London Natural History Museum: The Blue Whale | Extreme Biology Blog | Discover Museums

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  • Alice

    Great post Emily, Nick, and Gabby! This was so interesting! After reading this post, I decided to do a little more research about how the blue whale became endangered and what steps have been taken to prevent their extinction. Before the late 1860s, it was nearly impossible for hunters to capture almost all kinds of whales due to their tremendous size and speed, along with the lack of proper hunting technology. However, in 1868, a man named Sven Foyn invented the exploding harpoon gun, which would forever change the lives of whales. Through the use of this new exploding harpoon gun, as well as steam and diesel powered factory ships, hunting whales became a much easier industry. Foyn also perfected the tactic of inflating whales with air after they were harpooned to prevent them from sinking into the depths of the ocean. In the early 1900s, the whale industry started focusing on blue whales specifically. A single blue whale could carry up to 120 barrels of oil. Hundred of thousands of blue whales were killed. In 1931 alone, over 29,000 blue whales were killed in only one season. As time progressed, the numbers of blue whales in the oceans decreased so much and people feared of their extinction. In 1966, the International Whaling Commission banned all hunting of blue whales, granting them protection throughout the entire world. The number of blue whales has been slowing increasing and an estimated 5,000 are alive today.


    Video about the Blue Whale:!

  • Quick Links | A Blog Around The Clock

    [...] Natural History Museum: The Central Hall & Tree Gallery and London Natural History Museum: The Blue Whale and Class of 2014 Visits the Darwin Center at the London Natural History [...]

  • Jessica K

    Fascinating post, Emily, Nick, and Gabby! Regrettably, I didn’t have to chance to visit the Mammal and Whale exhibit, however, I’ve done some addition research and found out some more information on the topic. Prior to this post, I never realized just how huge the blue whale actually was! The average blue whale is about 100 feet long, weighing in at approximately 175 tons. Their massive hearts that weigh over a ton pump about 10 tons of blood throughout the body with each heartbeat. Their flippers also measure 8 feet long! As the extinction of blue whales is concerned, blue whales are endangered because of a practice called “whaling,” which is the hunting of whales for the uses of their oil, meat, and whalebone. There are currently only about 8,000 to 14,000 blue whales in existence today. However, this is an improvement from the 1,000 that were living in the mid 1950s. Hunting ceased in 1967 and blue whales are slowly coming back. They are also under the protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Whaling Commission, and many other organizations and laws.


  • Anonymous

    Great Post guys! For years, whales have been a supply of fuel, meat, and clothing. Whales are/were particularly useful to humans, because their blubber provides both a food source (as well as the rest of the edible meat) and a fuel source for lamps and their skin provides valuable weather. The reason they were over-hunted, is because provides each of these sources in BULK, a blue whale, is roughly 200 tons, and much of that is blubber and meat. However, whales are becoming scarce because of all the hunting, and release of toxic waste, oil spills, and fish nets make it harder for whales to repopulate.

  • Ms Baker


  • Anonymous

    Wow, that was a really good post, guys! I also got to see this exhibit, and when I tried to take a picture of the blue whale model, it was too big to take a full picture of! I did some research on the blue whale, and discovered it is the loudest animal on Earth! The ironic part is that even with the loud ‘trills,’ ‘moans’ and pulses [that whales emit, the sounds are at such a low frequency that humans cannot hear them without the help of special equipment that raises the pitch of the blue whales' sounds. In addition, scientists still cannot determine the actual purpose of their hour-long pulses, but since these pulses can travel up to 1,000 miles through the ocean, it is believed that blue whales may be communicating with each other or telling different blue whale populations apart. Or they are sonar-navigating the ocean. Though the largest animal on Earth, there are still some parts of blue whale that are for now a mystery.
    Links: [Check this site out, it has a really cool interactive [] on blue whales and you can hear different blue whale ‘pulses’ here]

    Video on Blue Whale Calls:

  • Anonymous

    That was such a good post! I had visited the blur whale myself when I was there. I found that when I was there the argument of if the blue whale was going to go extinct or not. This argument had caught my attention. The main reason for whale extinction is the infiltration of there territory. Believe it or not at one point there were 200,000 blue whales who swam in the sea. In 1931 about 30,00 thousand blue whales had been killed. most of the killed was done by fishing ships of the Soviet Union in Antarctica. When the process of whaling happened this decreased there numbers. Also female blue whales only produce once in a year. We have to save the species of blue whales because there are not many left and they are amazing creatures.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, guys! I also was fortunate enough to go see the blue whale and was amazed by the size of it! To answer one of your questions, I did some research to see what steps are taken to prevent whales from becoming extinct. There have been many organizations encouraging people to take these steps, such as The Animal Welfare Institute. They firstly discourage people to use sperm whale oil for manufacturing use. Another group, called Greenpeace would interrupt many whale hunts and use public pressure to force companies to use other oils for manufacture. They also have programs such as Adopt-A-Giant which is when anyone could adopt a whale and protect it.


  • Ms Baker

    Cartland, this is great. I know you told me you forgot to include your hyperlink. Please reply and submit it here.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Great post, guys! The blue whale was huge and amazing to see! After doing more research on different kinds of whales, I found that whaling wasn’t the only cause of extinction in whales. One article was on Beluga whales in the St. Lawrence river (one the border of the U.S. and Canada) and how the river had toxic contaminants in it. These toxins were getting into the tissue of the whales’ fatty tissue, reproductive system, along with a large amount of tumors. These toxins were also affecting the Belugas’ immune system. But the Beluga whales aren’t the only animals that are being affected. Other fish, that are prey to other animals, are being greatly affected by the toxins. So when other animals like birds eat these fish, they have these toxins inside them, too.
    But of course this article was from about ten years ago and something is being done about the chemical pollution in the St. Lawrence.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome post Emily, Gabby, and Nick. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to see the blue whale and it it enormous. I couldn’t believe it’s size, it took up most of the room. I was very interested in the mating process of the whales as I was reading above. They sing to attract mates. This is a very unique way to survive to reproduce. I was interested in doing further reading into the habitats of the blue whale. Blue whales are present in almost all of the oceans. They are usually spotted in the southern hemisphere. They prefer to stay in the deep cold waters. Unfortunately, blue whales still continue to be in the list of endangered species in the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List. Blue whales are a enlisted as a protected species. It has been recorded that there was a growth in their numbers, by about 7.1% in the Antarctic region. Being that the blue whale has such an enormous size, these sea creatures have no threats in the sea waters. The only reason why these amazing creatures have been listed in all sorts of endangered species lists, is because of the human infiltration. Blue whales reproduce ONCE in two to three years. The female blue whales gives birth to only one calf at a time. If proper care for the conservation of this species is not taken, than that puts the lives of the blue whales under even more pressure for survival and could lead to extinction if such careless actions continue.There are other great facts about whales like: Blue whales are the the oldest and largest living beings on this planet.For further information check out this website:

  • Ms Baker


  • evagobio14

    Nice Post guys! This exhibit was actually on the way to my own exhibit, so I was fortunate enough to see the exhibit as well. The blue whale stretched across the entire ceiling! It was hard to focus on other mammals in the exhibit with such a large one above your head!
    I was most fascinated by the mating of the blue whale, so I did a little more research on it. My research states that whales reach the sexually mature age from between ages 6-10. Also, the mating call that you mentioned in you post is the common everyday noise that we associate with whales. Researchers say that even outside of mating season, blue whales are usually found in pairs of male and female, although they can’t tell if their mating at the time. It is unknown if the whale chooses different mating partners every mating season, or if they typically choose the same partner.
    It is also unusual for whales to give birth to more than one calf at a time, like humans occasionally do. When the female whale does give birth, it usually takes place in warmer, shallower areas, and they always give birth at the beginning of winter. The new born whale comes out tail first, and the mother always ensures that the birth takes place near the surface of the water so that it can take its first breath within seconds of the delivery. The mother always has to assist the newborn at this time, because they can not swim until at least 30 minutes. The newborn typically weighs 3 tons and is 23 to 27 feet long. They nurse for 7 to 8 months and consume up to 100 gallons of milk per day. The mother and calf always stay together for a full year if not longer.

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