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Comparing Sperm Whales To Sperm: A Swimming Contest

Posted by on Oct. 4, 2013 at 10:04 PM
  • 1 Replies

Comparing Sperm Whales To Sperm: A Swimming Contest

Sperm whale and sperm
Brad Purnell/

If you're a big, big whale with a gigantic tail swimming through water, nothing gets in your way, not the water, not the other fish, not nothin'. You are so much bigger than the water molecules around you, you move through the sea the way humans move through the air on a calm day — you just go. Whales, I imagine, don't think much about water.

Contemplating Sperm
Brad Purnell/

But now, imagine yourself smaller. Much, much, much smaller. Instead of a sperm whale, let's make you, say — a human sperm, a teeny little critter with hardly any mass, and a very skinny, beating tail. All of a sudden you are much closer to the size of the water molecules around you.

YouTube

Now that you're little, getting through water is a huge headache. You are wedged in among equal sized H2O thingies that slow you way, way down. A human sperm in water is like a car in an enormous traffic jam — barely able to move.

So how do the littlest things in life — sperm, bacteria, pond scum — get where they need to go? How to they find food? Cows don't sit in meadows waiting for grass to grow next to their mouths ...

Cow Eating Grass

No, little things are cleverer than that. Much, much cleverer, as you will see in this video, elegantly illustrated by , narrated by Addison Anderson and thought up by , here's how they do it.

I guess of all the moving strategies I've ever encountered, this one — used by a little Broadway billboard-ish critter that dazzles trills of rainbow colored light in the shallow ocean — is the craziest. It uses the same strategies Brad and Aatish describe ... but it seems to think it's a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall.

Comb jelly from Gulf of Mexico, at Texas State Aquarium.
Gregory G. Dimijian/

And I wrote about it .

National Woman's Party


by on Oct. 4, 2013 at 10:04 PM
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AdrianneHill
by Platinum Member on Oct. 5, 2013 at 7:51 AM
before I read it, I'm betting on the sperm whale just because the images I've seen of swimming sperm make them seem kinda inefficient and makes every pregnancy even more miraculous.
that said, cervix is pretty long relatively and articles love to be clever so it is likely the sperm is the winner through plain stick-to-itivness I'm sure
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