How much do you know about whales?

humpback whales

These giants of the sea are intelligent, fascinating and unique. But how much do you really know about them? Test your knowledge with this fun quiz.

Question 1 of 10

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blue whale
The blue whale is the largest living creature on Earth. It can measure up to 108 feet long. How much does it weigh?

At 190 tons, not only is the blue whale the largest living creature in the modern world, but it is believed to be the heaviest creature to have ever lived on the planet. Because water helps support its weight, this whale does not need large, thick bones as it would if it lived on land. Instead, it's simply massive. Sadly, this incredible species is endangered, with only around 10,000 individuals left and a dire prognosis for recovery.

Question 2 of 10

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humpback whale leaping from water
David Ashley/Shutterstock
All whales belong to one of two suborders. The two suborders are:

Toothed whales (which include beaked whales) eat large fish and often make deep dives to hunt them. Sperm whales, for example, are the largest of the toothed whales and feed on giant squid, among other species. Baleen whales, such as blue whales and humpback whales, gulp down huge mouthfuls of tiny sea creatures such as krill, and filter them through large plates of hair-like baleen that act like sieves.

Question 3 of 10

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whale breaching
Which species of whale is famous for its aerial lunges and breaches?

While several species of whales will lunge out of the water, there is one species that has gone leaps beyond the rest. The humpback whale is known for dramatic displays of lunging or even completely clearing the water in a breach, falling back to the surface with a deafening smack. It is unknown exactly why humpbacks do this. Some theories include that it is a way for them to clean off, as a significant amount of barnacles and dead skin is shed after breaching. Or perhaps it is a way to communicate, since the whales are more likely to perform the leaps while in a group.

Question 4 of 10

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whale breathing
Because whales have to rise to the surface to breathe, they have evolved never to have to sleep.

Whales still catch a snooze, but they do so with only half their brain at a time. It is a strategy whales share with several other animal species, including seabirds that have to stay on the wing for days or weeks at a time. By only sleeping with half its brain at a time, a whale's body can get the rest it needs while still ensuring it doesn’t drown. The exception to this rule seems to be the sperm whale, which researchers have found go into a full sleep for very short periods while floating upright in the water.

Question 5 of 10

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whale face
Which is the only cetacean able to change its facial expression?

While the upturned corner of the mouth of a whale may look like a smile, it isn’t. All whales have a fixed facial expression without the ability to change it -- and that goes for dolphins too, who are known for their constant-smile expressions. But there is one exception: the beluga. Because the species has soft, flexible blubber around its lips and forehead that allow for mobility, a beluga whale can change its expression, and appear as if it is smiling or frowning.

Question 6 of 10

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sperm whale pod
Shane Gross/Shutterstock
What sensory strategy do toothed whales use to locate prey?

Most toothed whales rely on their sense of sound to zero in on their prey. Similar to bats, they use echolocation by making clicking sounds that bounce off nearby objects. Based on the returning echo, they can gauge things like size, shape and distance from the object. It is a perfect strategy for finding food in even the darkest water. The sperm whale's echolocation noises can be as loud as 230 decibels underwater, which is the loudest sound produced by any animal.

Question 7 of 10

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sperm whale tail
Richard Giddins/Flickr CC
Which whale species has set the record as the deepest diver?

It was long thought that the sperm whale, capable of diving as deep as 7,380 feet below the ocean’s surface, was the deepest diver. However, in early 2014, a group of scientists discovered that the Cuvier’s beaked whale smashes this record on a regular basis. The pod that the researchers were tracking regularly dove 9,800 feet during their dives. They would spend up to two hours and 17 minutes before resurfacing, which makes their dives not only the deepest, but the longest of any mammal ever documented.

Question 8 of 10

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Why were gray whales once known as "devilfish?"

Whalers used the cruel trick of harpooning a humpback or bowhead whale calf to lure in its much larger and more valuable mother for harpooning. However, this trick couldn’t be used on gray whales. Gray whale mothers are known to be fiercely protective of their calves, and in her rage at her calf’s harm, a mother could overturn or even smash a whaling boat. So, they were called “devilfish” because they weren't afraid to fight back against hunters.

Question 9 of 10

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whale skeleton
David Herraez Calzada/Shutterstock
A body part of this whale species was once sold under the guise of it being from a mythological creature.

The pointed tusk of the narwhal can grow as long as 10 feet, and is the only straight tusk known in the animal kingdom. So no wonder that such a strange object could be passed off as a unicorn horn in the 15th and 16th centuries to people who never knew that an Arctic-dwelling tusked whale existed. Narwhal tusks could sell for as much as four times their weight in gold because buyers thought they were genuine unicorn horns that could protect them from poisons. In reality, the tusk is an extraordinarily long tooth, with great sensory capabilities, thanks to the 10 million nerve endings inside.

Question 10 of 10

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whaling ship
BigRoloImages /Shutterstock
Though there has been a moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986, which countries still practice it?

Despite the international ban on commercial whaling, three countries still practice whaling and are responsible for killing about 30,648 whales since the moratorium came into effect for commercial purposes. Japan immediately began whaling under the flimsy guise of “scientific research” while Norway hunts under an objection to the ban. Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006 in what some consider an outright violation of the moratorium. The three countries together kill around 1,600 whales a year, including breeding females and endangered species such as fin whales. We still have a long way to go in the Save The Whales campaign if we hope to see the endangered and threatened whale species recover.

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