Blue whales race one another off New Zealand. Photo: Courtesy of Leigh Torres

The largest creatures on earth — blue whales — are remarkably fast and, it turns out, they like to race one another.

Dr. Leigh Torres, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, recently witnessed two blue whales racing in what appeared to be a competition for about 40 minutes.

The researcher, while on a voyage off New Zealand, recorded steady speeds of 17 mph, and bursts to about 20 mph.

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Keep in mind that these cetaceans can measure 100 feet and weigh 150 tons, and are the largest animals ever to have inhabited the planet. Plowing through dense ocean water at such speeds, therefore, would seem an impossible feat for mammals of such bulk.

(Torres notes that the fastest human swimmers can only attain speeds of 4.5 mph.)


Blue whale surges across the surface in a race with another blue whale. Photo: Courtesy of Leigh Torres

“Truly amazing to witness these animals surging along like this,” Torres writes for National Geographic. “It takes incredible energy and power to force their massive bodies through the water.”

It's not clear why blue whales race, but the behavior has been documented in other regions, too, with top speeds having reached about 25 mph.

“The most accepted hypothesis is that it is a form of male competition — trying to impress the ladies,” Torres states.

Blue whales may not be the world's fastest large whales, however.

Fin whales, the second largest creatures on the planet, are often referred to as “greyhounds of the sea” and have been recorded swimming at sustained speeds of 23 mph, and in bursts of at least 25 mph.

(For the sake of comparison, the sailfish is widely regarded as the world's fastest fish, capable of swimming at speeds of almost 70 mph.)

Blue whales and fin whales are endangered species found in most regions of the world, and as far as anyone knows, there has never been a race between the two species.

That, of course, would be a competition of titanic proportions!

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