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7 Insane Ways Whales Are More Majestic Than You

Rolled tongues, jointed ribs, flexible penises — whales have come a long way from their land- mammal ancestors.

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1. Their tongues fold into straws so they can nurse as babies.

Chris Bangs / ASSOCIATED PRESS / Via apimages.com

Nature has given baby whales creative ways to nurse underwater. Sperm whale calves, for instance, can roll their tongues into straws, and little finger-like fringes called papillae grab onto the nipple, according to whale anatomist Joy Reidenberg. “It’s necessary because they don’t have lips and cheeks to keep the fluid contained,” she told BuzzFeed News.

That tongue sends the thick milk straight down a calf’s throat, so it doesn’t float away. Whale milk is 50% fat, with a consistency like toothpaste, which makes it clump together in the water.

2. They have penises that can wriggle like worms.

giphy / Via giphy.com

When whales want to make a baby, they can’t use their hips to thrust, like most mammals do. Instead, they have long, flexible penises attached to strong muscles, so the penis can wiggle its way into the vagina from any direction.

4. ...and they ejaculate five gallons of semen at a time.

Mackintosh NA, Wheeler JFG (1929) Southern blue and fin whales. Discov Rep 1:257-540 / Via archive.org

This chart shows the testicle volume of blue whales of different lengths. The largest blue whale testicle ever found was more than 30 gallons, Trevor Branch, a blue whale researcher at the University of Washington, told BuzzFeed News. He estimates that's about 5.4 gallons of spunk every time the massive mammal got off.

Since blue whales don't settle down with one partner, all that liquid might help wash out the ejaculate of any previous paramours, increasing the chances a male will be a future father.

5. Their ribs can twist and fold, no biggie.

Daniel Bayer / Getty Images / Via gettyimages.com

When whales dive deep into the ocean, they are subjected to enormous pressure. A species known as Cuvier’s beaked whale has been known to dive almost two miles under the ocean — that’s more than eight Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other. At that depth, there’s some 4,000 pounds of pressure on every square inch of the animal’s body.

When that kind of force hits the air in whales’ lungs, all the air molecules squeeze together, pulling the lungs in with them. Human ribs would snap, but not whales’ — they have jointed, flexible ribs that move with a whale’s organs as they compress.

6. Their eyes are basically un-crushable.

Charlie Stinchcomb / Via Flickr: 47000103@N05

Whales don’t see much deep down in the water, but when they get up to the surface, many whales use their eyesight to hunt and check out the scene.

The same pressure that shrinks the air in whales’ lungs also presses in on their eyes. Instead of deforming, whale eyes are densely packed with connective tissue to keep them round and healthy, even with the weight of a car pressing on them.

7. They can “see” sounds with their jaws.

Kiyoshi Ota / Getty Images

Toothed whales, such as sperm whales, dolphins, and possibly some baleen whales like blue whales, have evolved echolocation, the ability to use sound waves to “see” in dark water for hunting and navigation.

Whales that use echolocation first send out a sound from their sinuses, so loud it can travel for miles. The sound waves will bounce off any objects they hit and journey back to the whale, traveling through chambers of oil in the whales’ heads to their ear bones, located in their jaws. Depending on how the sound waves vibrate the bones, whales can tell the location and size of prey, coastlines, or anything else in front of them.

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Cat Ferguson is a writer based in Oakland, California. You can follow her on Twitter @biocuriosity or email her at carolinetaylorferguson@gmail.com.

Contact Cat Ferguson at carolinetaylorferguson@gmail.com.

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