|Why are humpback whales classified as mammals?|
|Question Date: 2017-07-13|
Great question, one that has entertained
philosophers and scientists for centuries. Mammals
are a group of back-boned animals, the ancestors
of which lived on land and were quite small
(mouse-size). These small early were warm-blooded,
produced milk for their babies, had three bones in
their middle ear, fur, and dozens of other
distinctive features. Over evolutionary time
various groups of mammals have become larger and
some have became specialized for living in water
(both fresh and saltwater). The most specialized
of these aquatic mammals never leave the water
their entire lives. Aquatic or amphibious mammals
include (but are not limited to), otters,
manatees, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walruses),
and, most famously cetaceans (whales and their
kin). So...humpback whales (a kind of cetacean)
are considered mammals because they are one of the
many thousands of descendants of the "original"
mammal all those many millions of years ago.
That's exactly the same reason that you, Kris, are
a mammal --humans are ultimately directly related
to that first mammal in the way that the humpback
Whale mothers have milk that their baby whales
One summer I worked in a lab that did research
on the milk of different animals, including
whales. I had to give a talk about my research.
Someone asked me,
"Where did you get the milk?"
I figured it was obvious that milk came from
female mammals, so I said.
"I got the milk from the freezer in the
The other students thought that was funny. They
When we think of the ocean we think of fish,
but there are things besides fish living in the
ocean. For an animal to be a mammal it must be
warm-blooded, have hair, breathe air, and feed its
young with milk.
Most mammals also have live babies rather than lay
eggs. Whales actually do have hair either at birth
or right before birth. Humpback whales need to go
to the surface to breathe air every 15 minutes or so.
They are also warm-blooded, feed their young with
milk, and have live babies. Since humpback whales
meet the definition of a mammal, they are a
mammal. On a separate note, we think of birds
think of flying animals, but bats fly and they’re
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