Blue whales are the largest animal to ever live on planet earth and their sheer size and mysterious lifestyle under the water’s surface have inspired many myths and legends.
For Icelandic people, the blue whale is the big protector of fishing boats scaring away all wicked whales and announcing danger to the sailors.
In Hindu mythology, this whale is the reincarnation of lord Vishnu, the god of preservation.
However, this elusive cetacean may be huge but that does not mean it is easily found.
The blue whale has a wide distribution and inhabits every ocean except for the Arctic, but due to their reduced numbers and preference for offshore waters, a blue whale encounter is very rare.
So you already know that these whales are really big but what do blue whales look like?
In this article, I will tell you all about a blue whale’s physical appearance and special, unique traits so that if you are ever so lucky that you encounter one of these gentle giants while out at sea you will be able to recognize what it is the right away.
What Do Blue Whales Actually Look Like?
The first thing I need to tell you regarding the appearance of blue whales is their impressive size.
The largest living creature to ever inhabit planet earth can reach 33 m / 108.3 feet which is the equivalent of around 3 full-sized school buses lined up. And its weight? A bewildering 200 tons!
The body of the blue whale is long and slender, making it streamlined to allow for swifter movement by cutting through the water smoothly. Its head is the flattest, broadest, and bluntest of all other whale species which also helps its hydrodynamic performance.
And the name “blue whale”, as you might have guessed, comes from its color which is a blueish shade of grey.
These whales have lighter, white spots around the back and shoulders.
Their underside is lighter, more like a blueish-white color but, because of all the microorganisms it houses, it looks like it is light yellow.
What Features Do Blue Whales Have?
Now that we have covered the basics of blue whale appearance let’s dive a little deeper into more specific features such as its very small dorsal fin which only measures about 25 cm / 13 in. This fin is located toward the back of the whale’s body closer to its tail.
The tail of a blue whale is a very important feature as it needs to propel the 200-ton animal forward; for this purpose, the tail is long, straight, and very thick around the base of the fluke.
Their fluke has a width of 8 m / 25 feet which is the equivalent of a professional soccer goal!
Now I want you to direct your attention toward the head of the blue whale; these giants don’t have any teeth!
Like all baleen whales, it has a filter-feeding system with bristles inside the mouth that allow it to push out the water while keeping its small prey inside for swallowing.
On the outside of the head, under the mouth, you will notice between 60 – 88 ventral pleats that extend vertically from the mouth to the abdomen working as an accordion that expands allowing the whales to take in large amounts of water from which its food will then be filtered.
What Makes The Blue Whale Unique?
Remember I have already told you (multiple times) that the blue whale is the largest animal ever? Well, this whale has some individual features that are the largest of any whale species and, surprisingly, some that are the smallest!
Starting with the blue whale’s flippers, they only measure an average of 3.5 m / 11.5 feet each which makes them very small for the overall length of the whale.
Their flippers are also the narrowest of all baleen whale species.
And back towards the head, the blue whale has the widest jaw out of all the rorquals.
On top of its large size, the mandible has a special adaptation that allows it to dislocate giving the whale the ability to open its mouth forming a 90-degree angle.
The blue whale’s special jaw, combined with its ventral pleats allows this giant to fit around 100 tons of food and water in its mouth making it four times its original size.
Their throat though? About the size of a small beach ball.
More On The Blue Whale’s Appearance
Before I let you go I want to share with you know a few more things regarding the appearance of the blue whale that may be hidden from the naked eye but that is definitely worth sharing.
First of all, the size of a blue whale’s heart; it weighs around 182 kg / 400 lbs. and is 1.5 m / 5 feet long, 1.2 m / 4 feet wide and 1.5 m / 5 feet tall making it the size of a golf cart!
And the size of the arteries and veins that pump blood to and from such a large heart? A small adult human could swim through them!
And finally, last but not least, the blue whale’s tongue. This muscle weighs more than 3.5 tons, more than a large African elephant, and is 5.5 m / 18 feet long!
Just to sum things up the blue whale resembles a large, grayish-blue submarine with light speckles, a fluke, flippers, a very small dorsal fin, and a mouth that can quadruple in size when feeding.
As you have learned today, they have more than enough unique traits to set them apart from all other baleen whales just by looking at them, as well as monumental physical features that aren’t quite as apparent to the naked eye but that are absolutely spectacular.
I hope that by reading this article you have learned to easily identify a blue whale when the need arises and I really hope you are ever fortunate enough to be able to see this elusive marine mammal in the wild.
I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂