The first kayak anglers, Inuit paddling the Arctic coast thousands of years ago, used wood and skin kayaks to hunt whales and seals. Lucky for whales, today’s kayak anglers would rather catch fish and watch whales. Here are a few facts we can share about the world’s largest creatures, now that we’re friends.

  • Whales inhabit every ocean in the world, but their ancestors used to live on land. In fact, the whale’s closest genetic cousin is the hippopotamus. Paleontologists believe whales and hippos may have evolved from the same species 50 million years ago.
  • Whales have starred on the silver screen, including Namu: The Killer Whale (1966), Orca (1977), Free Willy (1993), Whale Rider (2002), and Big Miracle (2012).
  • Ambergris, an ingredient in fine perfumes, is made from whale vomit. When a whale pukes, ambergris is soft and stinky, but after years of floating in saltwater under the sun, it becomes a waxy rock with a sweet smell and a very high price tag, over $7,000 per pound.
  • Whales have the longest lifespans among mammals, especially bowhead whales, which live up to 200 years. You can tell a whale’s age from how much wax accumulates in its ears.
  • Herman Melville got his inspiration for Moby Dick from a real-life, 80-ton sperm whale known as Mocha Dick. In 1820, it attacked a whaling ship. The ship sank, and the survivors spent 90 days at sea before they were rescued. Mocha Dick was eventually killed off the coast of Chile near Mocha Island.
  • Whales are smart. In addition to communicating and exhibiting emotion, they can learn and plan. If the ratio of brain mass to body mass is an indicator of intelligence, whales are second only to humans.
  • The average whale can hold its breathe for 20 minutes. The Cuvier’s beaked whale is the breath-holding champ, able to stay underwater for over two hours. It’s also the deepest diver among whale species, descending over 9,000 feet.
  • While the humpback whale has a reputation as the longest-migrating mammal on earth, a female gray whale holds the record, 14,000 miles round-trip from Russia to Mexico.

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