The Fate of the Largest Individual Whale

June 3, 2015 Roger Payne

This passage is an excerpt from Among Whales by Dr. Roger Payne. He discusess the fate of the largest individual whale, which also means the largest animal, ever encountered by humanity. Republishing permission given by author.

I once saw a black-and-white snapshot taken by the whalers who caught the largest individual whale, a blue whale, ever known. It was not taken on the flensing platform where the whole body would have shown, but in the water as it lay next to the catcher boat – an indistinct blob lying beside a nondescript catcher boat. As I leaned forward, straining my eyes trying to see more detail, I realized I was actually seeing less and less, just more grain, the image coming apart before my eyes the way the beauty of a whale is reduced to rubble when it is cut up to be boiled down for oil.

That snapshot is the only known photograph of the largest-known individual of the most mammoth species of animal ever to live on earth – which means the largest animal for which we have any evidence anywhere in the universe. The female blue whale was killed in the Antarctic in February of 1928. The contemporary description of what turned out to be humanity’s encounter with the largest animal ever known to have existed only gives the whale’s sex, length, and the day and place she was killed. It also notes that her companions were especially large animals.

So there you have it, the sum total of all information passed along to us in the eye-witness account by one of the handful of people who saw the biggest animal that any human since the dawn of time has ever laid eyes on; in fact, the biggest of which our own species has ever been aware.

Photo credit Craig Parry.