Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One of the More Efficient Filters On Earth - Found In Whales

With advances and fabrics, construction, and implementation, current filtration technology is among some of the most advanced sectors of industrial engineering today. However for all of man's research, and achievements, sometimes nature still comes out on top in terms of who has the best "technology".

A recently released study has found that Blue Whales which are the largest animals ever to live, could very well also be the most efficient animals ever. By using a method called Filter-Feeding, the Blue Whale can take in more than 90 times more energy than it uses.
These truly gigantic animals, (at over 33 metres (108 ft) in length and 180 metric tons (200 short tons) or more in weight), dive up to 500 meters beneath the surface, then lunge into the swarms of tiny Krill (A type of Shrimp) above them at several meters per second. With their large mouths open they are able to catch large amount of the tiny Crustaceans. As they strike, their massive mouths fill with huge volumes of water, including plenty of Krill. The water is then pushed out through large filters,  called Baleen, in the Whale's mouth, trapping the Krill.
But recently a team of scientists lead by Robert Shadwick of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and Jeremy Goldbogen of the University of California, San Diego wondered how such a feeding process could be energy efficient. This feeding technique takes a lot of effort due to the energy needed for the lunges. "We wondered how they coped," says Robert Shadwick. They led a team who set out to track blue whales as they fed. In small boats they zoomed up alongside surfacing whales and attached tracking devices to them using suction caps.

How Energy Efficient?

The team followed 265 Blue Whales over the course of 200 foraging dives and 654 lunges. Based on the data they collected, the team estimated that the Whales expend about 3200 kilojoules of energy (About 13.3 million calories) with each dive. This astronomical number at first seems quite high, but it is drawfted when you consider how much energy the Whales get from their food. Using data on known Krill densities, the team estimates that with each lunge, the Whales collected between 34,000 (142,256,000 Calories) and 1,912,000 kJ (7,999,808,000 Calories) – up to 237 times the energy used. That is an efficiency factor of nearly 237 times more energy received than expended. Even when taking into account the dives, the Whales still netted nearly 90 times more energy.

A close up of the Blue Whale's Baleen, or Whalebone
Shadwick went on to explain how during the course of the Whales migratory lifestyle this great efficiency is needed when the Whales have to deal with seasonal starvation. 

All of this is thanks to the Blue Whale has Baleen, or Whalebone, in place of teeth. These narrow vertical plates, which hang inside the mouth cavity, are fringed on the inner edges to trap the Krill engulfed by the whale in a mouthful of water. It is easy to see why these are being called "Natures most efficient Filters".

So next time you think your Filtration system is world class, just remember that you have a long way to go, before you can match efficiency with natures Blue Whale.


  1. This is a great post! I like how you related this light-hearted material to our industry. Keep up the great posts.

  2. Very interesting. Not what I was expecting to read today but glad I did.

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  4. Amazing what you can find in nature. It seems that no matter what we make as humans nature always has one better. Even in filters

  5. I think that scientists need to look at things in nature first before trying to develop new technologies. There are plenty of things out there that we have tried to mimic, but nature's way will always prove to be better. Even in filtration. You could buy the best filter for your heater and yet you will find something in nature that one ups you everytime. http://pfcequip.com/index.php/minnesota/