Curious Kids: which is smarter – a blue whale or an orca?



Blue whales and orcas are both specialists in their own way. You can’t really measure which one is more intelligent.
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Kerstin Bilgmann, Macquarie University

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au.


Which is smarter: blue whales or orcas? – Prasaad, age 6.


There’s no simple answer. We don’t know for sure which one is smarter, because not everyone agrees on what “intelligence” means.

It’s true that blue whales and orcas (also called killer whales) are both smart. They both have very large brains. Orcas have particularly large brains compared to their overall body size.

But it’s not just about brain size. When it comes to measuring intelligence, we might also consider things like:

  • the number of nerve cells in the brain;
  • ability to navigate the deep, wide oceans;
  • solving difficult problems;
  • communicating;
  • working in teams.

Let’s look at which animal is good at which skill.




Read more:
Curious Kids: What sea creature can attack and win over a blue whale?


What can a blue whale do?

There’s no doubt a blue whale is a very intelligent animal.

Blue whales eat krill, which are very tiny prawn-shaped animals that gather in huge swarms that are often far away from where blue whales give birth to their children. Despite the distance, blue whales are masters of finding krill. They are very good at navigating along coasts and across the deep, wide oceans.

In fact, blue whales are so smart they can work out if a swarm of krill is worth chasing. Blue whales are very good at finding krill that are fat and in big swarms so they do not waste their energy catching smaller swarms. Blue whales catch krill by rolling on their side and opening their mouths. It is a lot of work and they have to use a lot of energy to do it.

Blue whales also have excellent systems for communicating with each other.

What can an orca do?

Orcas are a kind of large dolphin and they have different strengths.

They are very good at working together. They form groups and hunt together for fish or other sea mammals – including whales. This is why they are called “killer whales”.

They are also expert communicators and have their own language – even certain noises that are used by a particular group of orcas to show they are in the group.

Orcas form groups and hunt together.
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They both are very intelligent in their own way

Some scientists have wondered if you could measure intelligence by looking at how well animals teach their children how to behave – for example, how to find food, fight or stay safe.

Orcas are masters at teaching their children exactly what to do. This involves things like hunting in groups or sneaking up on a seal and grabbing it before sliding back into the water.

However, blue whales are also good at teaching their offspring skills such as long-distance navigation – in other words, finding their way around the vast oceans.

Both blue whales and killer whales have their own special behaviours and skills. We really can’t say which one is more intelligent because both are very intelligent in their own way.




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Curious Kids: how do creatures living in the deep sea stay alive given the pressure?


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.auThe Conversation

Kerstin Bilgmann, Lecturer in Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Curious Kids: What sea creature can attack and win over a blue whale?



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Blue whales are the largest creatures to have ever lived on Earth.
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Wally Franklin, Southern Cross University and Trish Franklin, Southern Cross University

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky! You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.


What sea creature can attack and win over a blue whale? – Drake, age 7, Sydney.


Hi Drake. That is an interesting question.

As you probably know, blue whales are the largest creatures to have ever lived on Earth – bigger than any dinosaur. They can grow up to 30 metres in length and weigh over 150 tonnes. This is very, very BIG. To give you an idea of how big a blue whale is, it’s the size of a Boeing 737 plane! Because of their size, power and speed, adult blue whales have virtually no natural ocean predators.

The only sea creature known to attack blue whales is the orca whale (scientific name: Orcinus orca) also known as the “killer whale”. They have been known to work in groups to attack blue whales.

However, there are very few reports of orcas actually killing blue whales. We know that orca whales interact with them because many blue whales carry scars from the teeth of orcas. But blue whales probably see orcas as more of a pest than a predator.

Orcas have sharp teeth.
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Read more:
Curious Kids: Why do sea otters clap?


Blue whales can grow 30 metres in length and weigh over 150 tonnes.
Kurzon/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The human threat

A much more serious problem for blue whales is humans. Humans have caused a lot of trouble for blue whales over the years.

One big problem is what we call “ship strikes”. This is when large ships collide with blue whales causing dreadful wounds and, in many cases, death.

Blue whales migrate freely across all the great oceans of the world to breed. They travel each year to the Antarctic in search of food. Global warming is a major future threat to their way of life. This is because rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification (which are caused by climate change) are likely to cause severe disruption to the production of their main food source, the very small crustacean we call “krill”.

Blue whales were the target of commercial whalers, mainly in Antarctica, between 1900 and the 1970s. During that time, over 330,000 blue whales were killed.

Fortunately – and only just in time – the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1966. Blue whales are now a protected species and are recovering from the brink of extinction. People on whale watching trips at various locations around the world can see them, if they are lucky. The risk of whaling still exists in several countries, including Japan, Iceland and Norway. Many people in these countries are seeking to return to commercial whaling. Recently, whalers in Iceland killed a hybrid blue whale.

Blue whales can talk

One of the most interesting things about blue whales is that they use very low frequency sounds to communicate. Through this they can talk to each other over great distances. The low frequency sounds can pass through the earth, so it’s possible to record their songs and sounds from anywhere in the world.

In the 1960s, an American scientist called Chris Clark got permission to use the USA’s submarine listening system across the Atlantic Ocean to listen to blue whales. One day, he heard a blue whale calling from the far northeast Atlantic Ocean and realised another whale many thousands of miles away in the southwest Atlantic Ocean was answering it. Through their calls, he tracked them over the next few weeks moving towards each other. The two blue whales met and spent time together in the middle of the Atlantic. Then they separated and went on their way!

A pair of blue whales swims under the surface in Monterey Bay, California.
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It is important for all who are interested in the conservation and protection of these amazing creatures to remain vigilant and involved in making sure that they remain safe. Whales are part of the international heritage of all people of the Earth.




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Curious Kids: How do plastic bags harm our environment and sea life?


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Wally Franklin, Researcher and co-director of the The Oceania Project, Southern Cross University and Trish Franklin, Researcher and co-director of The Oceania Project , Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.