Main content

Inside the blue whale

Everyone has heard of the blue whale, yet they are rarely seen and not often filmed. Sir David's delight at the privileged close up view of one of these ocean giants as it breached right beside him is evident. Although difficult to comprehend, at 30 metres in length and 180 metric tons or more in weight, the blue whale is the largest animal ever known to have existed.

With the help of computer graphics, David Attenborough gets right inside the body of the blue whale to show off its amazing mammalian anatomy. Housed in a vast rib cage, its lungs can carry 2,000 litres of air - 500 times the human capacity. A heart the size of a small family car beats 5 or 6 times a minute and drives 10 tonnes of blood through a million miles of blood vessels. All that's left of the back legs are two isolated hip bones buried in a mountain of muscle. David Attenborough rides on a boat next to a whale as it breaches and he remarks that no animal of this size could survive on land as no bone is strong enough to support such huge bulk out of the water. The blue whale has the ability to store oxygen within the tissues of its body as well as in its blood, allowing it to stay underwater without breathing for half an hour or more. It has a thick layer of blubber, in some places 20 inches thick, which helps to insulate it from the chill of the deep water. It collects food wholesale, taking in a tonne of krill-filled water with one sideways gulp. The blue whale's shape is near-perfectly hydrodynamic, uninterrupted by hind limbs, ears or genitals. As it tilts its 100 tonne bulk downwards from the surface of the water, the whale plunges to the black world 500 feet or more below the surface.

Release date:


4 minutes

Featured in...

More clips from Return to the Water