Whale Anatomy

Whale anatomy is all about life in the water.

Whales and dolphins have bodies which are well adapted to a life in water.

But their bodies differ from fish and other water animals - they still carry some rudimentary organs from their past as land animals, and their skeletons and inner organs are much more similar to those of land animals than the organs and skeletons of fish.

Probably the most obvious difference between whales and fish is that fish can live under the water their entire life, because they have gills, while whales, having been land animals, have lungs and need to go to the water surface regularly to breathe in oxygen from the air.

Whale Skeletons 

Penguins Crowd the Rocks Near a Bleached out Whale Skeleton
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Whale skeletons have a long vertebrae (back-bone) like all vertebrate animals, including fish. But unlike fish, they have large ribs around their lungs, and the bones inside their flippers have five fingers exactly as do human hands. While the bones of land animals are strong because they have to carry the animal's weight, the bones of whales have become soft because in the water, much of the weight is carried by buoyancy. When large whales accidentally get out of water, their inner organs can be crushed by their own weight because the bones are too soft to carry the weight. 

Inner Organs

Whalers Removing Blubber from a Dead Whale
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Inner whale anatomy is similar to the anatomy of land mammals (there are even rudimentary remains of back legs inside whales' bodies). And the organs are huge. A large baleen whale's heart is as large as a small car. Whales' lungs are huge, to enable the animal to spend extensive time under the water. They have, however, ears that are adapted to water. Instead of an outer and inner ear like in land animals, whales' throat acts as the outer ear, since under the water there is not much difference between the outer and inner environment.

Outer Body Parts

A Breaching Humpback Whale
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Whales' outer body parts are more similar to water than land animals. Their front legs evolved to flippers and their tails are similar to fish tails, except that fish tails move horizontally while whale tails move vertically. It consists of two flukes, which, as opposed to the flippers have no bones in them. Many, but not all whales also have a dorsal fin (others may have a hump). In some species such as killer whales the fin is quite distinctive, in others such as beluga, narwhal, bowhead and right whales, it is absent. Other distinctive features are blowholes - of which toothed whales have one and baleen whales have two. Those basically work as nostrils to breath, and they are on the top of their head, which allows them to be mostly under water while breathing.

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