Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why whales get no bigger   posted by Razib @ 11/24/2009 05:33:00 PM

Carl Zimmer reports that it might be a function of physics. Bigger whales have proportionality bigger mouths, but at some point the biological engineering runs up against constraints:
s they report today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Goldbogen and his colleagues found that big fin whales are not just scaled-up versions of little fin whales. Instead, as their bodies get bigger, their mouths get much bigger. Small fin whales can swallow up about 90% of their own body weight. Very big ones can gulp 160%. In other words, big fin whales need more and more energy to handle the bigger slugs of water they gulp. As their body increases in size, the energy their bodies demand rises faster than the extra energy they can get from their food.


If the scientists are right, they may have discovered one of the big ironies in evolution. Lunge-feeding may have allowed whales to become the biggest animals ever to roam the planet. But this was not an open-ended invitation. Once whales got large enough, lunge feeding itself became so costly it prevented them from getting any bigger. Perhaps some day another animal will evolve a new strategy that will let it get even bigger than a blue whale. But for the animal kingdom as we know it, we may be sharing the planet with the biggest species it can offer.

Given enough time and a large population one can imagine that evolution might be able to figure out a solution, or back out of the adaptive dead end.

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