Air Pocket Whale
|Air Pocket Whale|
|Official Name||Air Pocket Whale|
|Common Nicknames||Balloon Fish, Skippers|
Bursting from the long, slow waves of the Western Calms is the Air Pocket Whale, a playful, aquatic mammal that calls the warmer waters around Ithania home. The species’ peculiar name comes from the unique characteristic of the animal, which are two large air sacs that dominate the back of the creature. These air sacs act as special ballasts, granting them superior control of the animal’s depth in the water. Original citings of the Air Pocket Whale come from the early years after the Cataclysm, roughly 40 AC. Early records demonstrate the incredibly friendly nature of the species, which often jump and play along with boats that sail in the region. To this day, tourists who travel to the Western Calms often take special day trips out to popular gathering places for Air Pocket Whales, so that they may witness the spectacle of the graceful creatures as they bob and dive among the surf. There are several small coastal towns in Ithania that survive solely off of such tours, as well as selling the surprisingly delicious flesh of the animals.
The colorful mammal was originally spotted off the coast of Ithania around the year 40 AC. While their original discovery is muddled by various accounts, it is safe to assume that the first people to interact with the Air Pocket Whales were fishermen from Ithania. Initial attempts largely focused around fishing the large mammal, after an early discovery that the meat was tender and succulent when roasted over a fire. It was not until the year 117 AC that people began to come to the region to see the animal while it was still alive. This was actually a great boon for the whales, as the sudden interest in seeing one alive brought the species back from the edge of extinction. The animal would go on to be used by various noble families along the coastline, being prized for its elegance and strength. In modern times, the Air Pocket Whale is a draw for countless tourists across the Regalian Empire, just to see the whimsical animal swim about the coast. Since its initial discovery, various entertainment groups from across the Empire have captured juveniles of the species and brought them on tour with traveling circuses. Whales that were forced into this line of work rarely saw the age of twenty.
Air Pocket Whales are a relatively colorful species, often ranging in skin tones from pale blue to pale purple, with a white underbelly. They can grow to be upwards of thirty feet in length, though most that live in the shallow waters near the coast are closer to twenty feet in length. Air Pocket Whales have a rounded face that gives way to a fine point at the tailfin, making them more streamlined in the water. Marine biologists have accredited this phenomenon to the differing environments in which the species thrive, as whales found in deeper water tend to be longer. Air Pocket Whales have two main pectoral fins that are used for navigation in the water, located along the lower portion of the whale. The species also has a trademark dorsal fin that often can grow to be five feet in length, which allows the animal to steer itself through the water with ease. Located along the back on either side of the dorsal fin are the two namesake air sacs, which when deflated look like dents in the animal’s back and can expand to nearly two feet from the back on a mature adult when filled. These sacs feature a unique form of gills, located at the front of the air sac, which strips the hydrogen from water as it rushes past, filling the air sacs with lighter-than-air gases. These gills, however, do not connect to the animal’s lungs, and are therefore useless for breathing. Finally, despite the species’ friendly exterior, the Air Pocket Whale is in fact a carnivore, and has a mouth lined with small, razor-like teeth that it uses to eat smaller fish.
Male and female Air Pocket Whales grow to be relatively the same length, with females being a foot longer on average. Males also have a second, smaller dorsal fin located along their back, generally a few feet behind their main fin. At first glance, this fin appears to serve no additional service to the males, as they navigate their environment at the same skill level as females. However, this additional fin aids greatly when the male is carrying a child, as the added weight can impact turning speed. Males also have larger, more colorful air sacs, which are used during courting to show off to females. This feature also means that they are able to reach the surface faster than females when the air sacs are employed. Color wise, both male and females may be any of the normal colors of the species, ranging from light blue to pale purple. The colors that an Air Pocket Whale exhibit are more hereditary in nature than gender based. Finally, it has been noted that due to the males carrying the children, females serve as the hunters of the species, and will bring home food for a pregnant male.
Life Span and Development
An oddity among most mammals, it is actually the Air Pocket Whale males that give birth to the young. When mating, the female deposits the fertilized egg into a special ‘egg pouch’ located along the underside of the male, similar to the pocket a marsupial develops. The male carries the child for the remainder of the gestation period, usually lasting six months. Twins are incredibly common among Air Pocket Whales, and even triplets are not unheard of. Births generally take place on or near the surface of the water. During the birth, the male rolls onto their back, using their air sacs to remain afloat while they force the infant out of the ‘egg pouch’ using special muscles on the animal’s stomach. When the infant first emerges from the ‘egg pouch’, it is roughly two feet in length, and begins to swim within the first twenty minutes of life. It is then cared for by the father for two years, during which time the infant grows to be eight feet in length. At this point, the juvenile Air Pocket Whale begins to mingle with others of the species, finally maturing after twelve years. Their average lifespan is upwards of fifty years, with health beginning to decline around forty years when their skin begins to lose elasticity and the animal’s air sacs inflate much slower. The most common cause of death for the species is drowning, often due to water leaking into the air cavities on the back and weighing the animal down.
Despite attempts at taming them, the Air Pocket Whale has remained wild and free. While they can be trained, they have yet to be successfully bred in captivity. That being said, the species shows remarkable friendliness and often engages in play with boats and tourists in the area. This has been both a boon for tourists, as well as fishermen, who utilize the friendliness to coax them into traps and nets. However, groups of the species have shown incredible resourcefulness, often getting each other untangled from nets and traps using their teeth. They also understand how to count, though that could simply be coincidence from trained members of the species.
Territory and Groupings
Air Pocket Whales live in groups, called pods. Each pod varies in size, often consisting of several family groups that live in the same territory, and have one chief matriarch that is the primary huntress. Territories can also range in size, though most include some form of coral reef where their prey live. Despite each pod having multiple families within it, individual pods are incredibly territorial, and will guard their area against outside pods if need be.
- Air Pocket Whale skin is valued for it incredible elasticity, being able to stretch to accommodate the increase in volume of the animal and shrink back to relative size. It is highly sought after by dressmakers and tailors for its usefulness in clothing.
- Stuffed ‘Air Pocket Whale’ dolls have become a rising trend among young girls in Ithania.
- The theory among biologists is that the Air Pocket Whale and the Aetherwhale are actually distant cousins, as both utilize some form of air cavity to achieve lift.
- Regions that have heavy Air Pocket Whale populations often feature extensive coral reef growth, due to the increased oxygen in the water caused by the animals attempting to fill their air sacs.