WTF Fun Fact 13552 – Blue Whale’s Heartbeat

A blue whale’s heartbeat can be detected from an astonishing distance of two miles away!

The Mighty Pulse of the Blue Whale

The blue whale, known as Balaenoptera musculus, reigns as the largest creature on our planet. Its size surpasses even the mightiest dinosaurs. One of its awe-inspiring attributes? Under the right conditions, you can detect a blue whale’s heartbeat from an incredible distance of two miles away.

The Heart: Size and Scale

First, consider the immense size of the blue whale’s heart. It weighs around 400 pounds (181 kilograms) and is about as large as a small car. This massive organ pumps blood through a creature that can be up to 100 feet long and weigh as much as 200 tons. Each beat sends gallons of blood throughout its enormous body, delivering oxygen to muscles and vital organs.

Mechanics of Each Beat

The rate of the blue whale’s heartbeat also intrigues researchers. When a blue whale surfaces, its heart beats eight to ten times per minute. Yet, during a deep dive, this rate can plummet to a mere two beats per minute. This drop in heartbeat allows the whale to conserve oxygen and stay underwater for durations that can reach 90 minutes.

Each heartbeat exerts tremendous force. As the heart contracts, it generates strong pressure waves. Given the power and size behind each beat, these waves can travel for miles.

Tools of Detection: Hydrophones

Researchers use hydrophones, underwater microphones, to tap into the ocean’s soundscape. These devices pick up a range of sounds, from the melodies of humpback whales to the conversations of dolphins and the distant rumblings of underwater earthquakes. Amid these myriad sounds, the rhythmic thud of the blue whale’s heartbeat offers valuable information.

Water conditions, including temperature, salinity, and depth, affect how sound travels underwater. However, the unique rhythm of the blue whale’s heartbeat stands out, even in this busy sonic environment.

Heartbeat and Conservation

Studying the blue whale’s heartbeat has implications for conservation. Tracking the heart rate can give insights into the health of the species. Human activities, such as shipping or underwater drilling, can stress whales and alter their heart rates. By listening to the ocean’s pulse, scientists can determine the effects of human-caused noise on these marine giants and adjust conservation strategies accordingly.

Additionally, by understanding the blue whale’s heart, we can explore the limits of size in the animal kingdom. This knowledge might explain the maximum potential size of living organisms and provide insights into the evolution of marine giants.

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Source: “5 things you never knew about a whale’s heart” — Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum

WTF Fun Fact 13084 – Moby Duck

You’ve no doubt heard of the book Moby Dick. But have you heard of the incident referred to as Moby Duck? Let’s just say that while it involves an ocean, whales aren’t the main character in this story.

What was Moby Duck?

In 1992, a shipment of children’s bath toys fell into the North Pacific Ocean on its way from China to the U.S. The accident dumped 28,000 rubber ducks into the water, where they were carried far and wide by the currents. They’ve been found on the shores of Alaska and even in Maine (which means they make it all the way to the Atlantic).

More than a decade after the incident, a journalist named Donovan Hohn decided to see if he could track the ducks, enlisting the help of citizen beach-goers and oceanographers alike.

“I figured I’d interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers, read up on ocean currents and Arctic geography and then write an account of the incredible journey of the bath toys lost at sea,” he told NPR’s Dave Davies on Fresh Air in 2011 (cited below). “And all this I would do, I hoped, without leaving my desk.”

He detailed the journey in a book called Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.

An environmental angle

While the idea of tracking the toys sounds cute on some level, Hohn also found out just how much plastic is on our oceans and the effects it has on the environment. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, so those ducks will be around for centuries. Or at least pieces of them will.

While the ducks may photodegrade (due to sunlight), they simply fall apart into smaller pieces of plastic we can’t see. But that plastic still ends up inside wildlife and ocean garbage patches.

“We know that in the marine food web, there is an alarmingly elevated contaminant burden in species at the top of the food web,” Hohn said. “What role plastic plays in that is an ongoing area of study.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “‘Moby-Duck’: When 28,800 Bath Toys Are Lost At Sea” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 12752 – The Loudest Animal

What would be your guess for the loudest animal on earth? A lion? An elephant? What about a shrimp?

Ok, but what about a specific type of pistol shrimp named after the bank Pink Floyd? That sounds a bit more believable,

The loudest animal

You’ve probably never heard a pistol shrimp make a noise unless you spend time near reefs with your head underwater. But the way they catch their prey is pretty interesting. They use bubbles.

By snapping their claws super hard and fast, a pistol shrimp can create a bubble that travels out from their bodies at around 60 mph. That’s enough to stun their prey so they can attack.

But when the bubble pops, it really makes the ocean rock.

Noisy eaters

One specific type of pistol shrimp is known for being a particularly noisy eater (or at least bubble-maker). Synalpheus pinkfloydi is pistol shrimp named after Pink Floyd. Because, hey, why not? We’re pretty sure one of the coolest things about being a scientist is getting to name stuff to your liking.

Anyway, this little shrimp can snap so hard that when it’s bubbles burst the noise can reach up to 210 decibels, according to the Ocean Conservancy (cited below). That’s louder than an actual pistol. Gunshots can reach around 175 decibels.

Clawing their way up the chain of command

The Ocean Conservancy also notes that “The pistol shrimp’s mighty snap comes in handy for more than just lunch. Its powerful claw can deter predators or other competitors looking to take over the shrimp’s burrow. It also makes males more attractive to the ladies—larger claws suggest they are better mates.”

It turns out a good claw is better than a pistol any day!

But it turns out pistol shrimp are also lovers, not just fighters. They work together – even with other species – to help find food and keep their hunting mates safe. So next time you’re hunting in a reef, find a friend with a big claw!

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Source: “The Real Power of the Pistol Shrimp” — Ocean Conservancy

WTF Fun Facts 12706 – Oxygen From The Ocean

It’s easy to think all our oxygen comes from trees on land – and a LOT of it does (especially rainforests, which there are lots of, and which need protection). But, in fact, most of it comes from the oceans.

That’s a bit harder to believe, but that doesn’t make it less true.

Plankton, specifically phytoplankton, produce most of the Earth’s oxygen. It also serves as food for sea creatures, but they don’t do much else that makes them interesting to most people. They just float around, completely at the mercy of the currents. They’re green and cruddy and you might even look at them and think “eww.”

And that’s fine since they also can’t be offended.

Here’s the deal: even though oceanic phytoplankton isn’t nearly as pretty as trees, it does similar work for us. These little organisms mostly float along the surface of the water or the upper part of the ocean where light still penetrates. They require sunlight to live and grow and produce food for other ocean creatures. They contain chlorophyll to capture the sunlight. If you remember back to grade school science, you probably see where this is going – photosynthesis.

Our oceanic phytoplankton turns the energy from sunlight, as well as carbon dioxide, and mineral salts partly into oxygen. There’s a lot of other stuff going on there too (other byproducts of photosynthesis, like the sugar they feed on), but oxygen is the byproduct we care about at the moment since we need it to breathe.

The cool thing is that even if you don’t live anywhere near an ocean, you still get the benefits because of the way the planet works. Oxygen is great because it just fills the atmosphere and doesn’t need to be shipped via trucks and planes to far-off destinations.

Scientists estimate that 50-80% of the oxygen production that takes place on Earth comes from the ocean. That’s a big range, but even if you go with the more conservative number, it’s clear that we can’t live without them. However, a lot of that oxygen also goes back into the ocean for other ocean life that needs it.

Don’t get us wrong, we love rainforests and regular trees too. But phytoplankton is doing more work than other flora when it comes to keeping breathing creatures alive.

We can do things like track plankton and get some readings off them, but it’s hard to know exact numbers of what they’re producing at any given time. The amount of oxygen they give off can change with the time of day or the time of year. It can also change depending on how healthy the oceans are.

One problem is that things like dead and decaying plants and animals in the ocean also consume oxygen when they decompose. That’s just one reason why killing off aquatic life (such as coral reefs) can be bad for us.

But if you remember one thing, it should be that these tiny, single-celled creatures do a lot of work for us by not only producing oxygen but by absorbing some of the CO2 we emit.

Some people call them “the lungs of the sea.” – WTF fun facts

Source: “How much oxygen comes from the ocean?” — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

WTF Fun Fact 12606 – Octopuses Getting Punchy

Octopuses are incredibly smart. In fact, we’re only just now starting to learn how their complex brains work.

Take this factoid, for example. Octopuses need so much intellectual stimulation that those in captivity require games and puzzles to keep them from eating off their own arms out of boredom!

But did you know octopuses also have a bit of a mean streak?

Researchers have observed the creatures punching fish in the past – everything from a warning “boop” to a “curl up and let ’em have it” punch. Punching is pretty rare, but in many cases, the researchers could ascertain some reason for the punch. Usually, the octopus was trying to keep the fish from spoiling its meal.

However, sometimes octopuses punch fish for revenge. And revenge isn’t something we usually think of as relevant to underwater creatures.

More recently, Eduardo Sampaio recorded the underwater action. He also concluded that some octopuses seem to haul off and punch their hunting partners for no reason at all. That is, they don’t stand to benefit in any way from punching the fish.

Sampaio even posted a video to Twitter to illustrate the punching action:

So, apparently, “throwing a sucker punch” is yet another factoid we can add to humanity’s ever-growing list of things we know about but can’t explain when it comes to octopuses.

– WTF fun facts

Source: “Octopuses Punch Fish, Sometimes For No Apparent Reason” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 12436 – Ocean Depths

There’s a lot we don’t know about the ocean because humans simply can’t get to the very bottom. In fact, we don’t even know where the deepest spot on the planet lies because we’ve only mapped about 10% of the ocean floor in high resolution.

What we do know is that among the areas we’ve measured, the average depth of the ocean is 12,080 feet. For those who prefer different units of measure, that’s 3,682 meters, or 3.7 kilometers, or 2.3 miles – or, you know, 8 Empire State Buildings.

These measurements are taken from data gathered in 2010 and only provide an estimate.

Did you know there are different names for deep ocean zones?
– Littoral zone (from the shore to about 200 feet deep) tends to be shallow and has no formal definition.
– Bathyal (3,300 to 13,100 ft) 
– Abyssal (10,000 and 20,000 ft)
– Hadal zone (20,000 to 36,000 ft): This is the deepest part of the ocean, and you have to make your way into trenches created by tectonic plate shifts in order to reach them.

The ocean’s deepest known point is Challenger Deep, in the western Pacific’s Mariana Trench. It’s deeper than Mt. Everest is tall. – WTF fun facts 

Source: “How deep is the ocean?” — Natural History Museum

WTF Fun Fact 12402 – Self-Cleaning Fish

An experiment published in the journal PLOS Biology showed for the second time that fish could recognize themselves in the mirror. Scientists injected the cleaner fish (Labroides dimidiatus) with a substance that “tattooed” them with brown marks on their scales. When they spotted their reflections, they were triggered to try and scrape off the marks.

This goes far beyond simple mirror recognition. Fish mirror self-recognition (MSR) would give the creatures a characteristic only shared by two other creatures – humans and chimpanzees.

Previous research drew the same conclusions but was not conclusive since the sample size was small and not all of the fish exhibited the behavior. But the recent replication study remedied those inadequacies and added more evidence to the theory that fish are self-aware.

Not everyone is convinced, though. Some researchers are still skeptical that the behavior was not the result of self-awareness but rather a physical reaction to being tattooed by the scientists.

When interviewed by IFL Science, the lead researcher, Professor Masanori Kohda of Osaka City University, said, “During the long 50-year history of mirror tests of animals, this study is the first test that uses the mark to which the subject animals pay attention. Hence, this fish shows the highest passing rate for mark-test, exceeding that of chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants.” – WTF Fun Facts

Source: Fish Cleaning Themselves In A Mirror May Have Just Demonstrated Self-Awareness — IFL Science