The Story of Propeller

The humpback whale is the fifth largest of the world’s whales and is found in all of the oceans around the world. Scientists estimate that there are 20,000 humpback whales that spend their lives in the North Pacific. Of these 20,000 whales, there is one very special whale named Propeller named by a very special girl, Madison Peterson. Madison, along with her sister Kendal are showing definite signs of being future advocates for the oceans by opting to collect donations for their 9th birthday. They used those donations to name Propeller and the turtle, Cookie. Pacific Whale Foundation is grateful for their support and wish them the best in years to come. 

Propeller was sighted on March 8, 2011 by naturalists and guests aboard Ocean Odyssey off the coast of Maui. Propellor was in a surface active pod of two animals demonstrating behaviors typical for competition pods - fluke or pectoral fin slapping, breaching, etc. 

Whales are air-breathing mammals just like us. They must surface to breathe and being active at the surface makes breathing easier; however, humpback whales are very good at holding their breath with an average downtimes of about 15 minutes. It is obvious that whales are able to hold their breaths much longer than humans can due to their large lungs. When fully stretched, the lungs are long enough to accommodate a Cadillac stretch-limousine yet, their lungs are much lighter in weight than ours. A humpback whale’s lungs account for less than 1 percent of their body weight. In humans, the lungs account for 7 percent of the body weight.

The massive size of their lungs isn’t the only reason why whales have the ability to hold their breath so effectively. Marine mammals, including humpback whales, have a spongelike aggregation of convoluted blood vessels called the rete mirable around their heart and lungs. These spongelike networks are also found in the sinus cavities of the head and in sections of the whale’s pectoral fins and tail flukes. The rete mirable help conserve body heat and also help the whale store oxygen. It’s no wonder that the meaning of rete mirable is “the marvelous network.”

Humpback whales also carry a higher volume of blood in their bodies than we do. It’s believed that humpback whales have 750 gallons of blood flowing through their bodies, pumped along by the whale’s 450 pound heart! In addition, whales have high levels of red blood cells. Each of these cells is heavily loaded with hemoglobin, which binds oxygen in the blood. Whales also have high levels of myoglobin. This oxygen-binding molecule is found in muscle cells and gives the whales added ability to function during deep sea dives.

Whales are also very efficient at exhaling and inhaling. The speed of their exhalation is approximately 300 mph. In a single breath, a whale can rapidly expel 90% of the air in its lungs, replacing it with new, fresh oxygen-laden air. When the whale has finished its inhalation, it closes its blowholes tightly, to prevent water from entering its lungs. 

Thank you for adopting Propeller. Your adoption helps support the ongoing research at Pacific Whale Foundation and our team will be keeping their eyes out for future sightings of Propeller.