|“||Huge creatures swam past in pinks and blues, spinning and dancing through the waters as they trailed phosphorescent ribbons in their wake.||”|
Glowwhales are ichthypods of the order Noxia. They are unique to Parasol, as they are more or less incapable of surviving on any other system, and have no means to transport themselves to other worlds. They have a distinct head, fins, body, and trailing tentacle structure. Glowwhales are strong swimmers, although they normally travel at speeds between 2 and 16 knots, or from 1 to 3 knots when they're feeding.
Unlike most creatures, glowwhales did not evolve. Rather, they were created in Parasol laboratories millennia ago as an attempt to solve the issue of static discharge into Parasol's oceans. They were primarily a cross between fish, whales, sharks, jellyfish, and squid.
Unlike true whales, glowwhales are not warm-blooded, nor do they give birth to live young. The main body mass is enclosed in the mantle, which has a swimming fin along each side. These fins, unlike in other marine organisms, are not the main source of locomotion. Glowwhales, like whales, have a spinal column and a four-chambered heart. The neck vertebrae are fused, trading flexibility for stability during swimming.
The skin is covered in chromatophores, which enable the skin to change color to suit its surroundings, and when it feels threatened, it can make it practically invisible. Most often, though, the glowwhale leaves it "idling" at its iconic dark blue. Their underside is usually kept lighter than the topside, to provide camouflage from predators, although it is worth noting that glowwhales have no true "top" or bottom, and are equally comfortable when turned at any angle. Beneath the skin lies a layer of fat called blubber, which stores energy and insulates the body.
At the front and rear of the body are openings to the mantle cavity, which contains the gills (ctenidia) and openings to the excretory and reproductive systems. At the front of the mantle cavity lies the siphon, which the glowwhale uses for locomotion via precise jet propulsion. In this form of locomotion, water is sucked into the mantle cavity through the glowwhale's mouth and expelled out of the siphon in a fast, strong jet. The direction of the siphon can be changed, to suit the direction of travel. Unlike a squid, the body mass of a glowwhale prevents it from reaching speeds of over 25 knots.
The body shape is fusiform and the modified forelimbs, or fins, are paddle-shaped. Glowwhales do not possess fully developed hind limbs, although they do have a dorsal fin.
Rather than bearing the arms of a squid, a glowwhale bears a mass of tentacles in much the same way as a jellyfish. These are equipped with the same chromatophores as the rest of the creature's skin, allowing it to change the color of its tentacles. The tentacles themselves assist the creature in stabilizing itself, and are harmless in every way, contrary to popular myth. Also contrary to popular myth, they contain no muscular structure, and are thus incapable of dragging dwarves underwater, and of strangling prey. Their tentacles are excellent conductors of electricity, and the glowwhale is capable of controlling their static charge to better receive waste electricity from structures they swim past.
The glowwhale ear has specific adaptations to Parasol's marine environments. In dwarves , the middle ear works as an impedance matcher between the outside air's low impedance and the cochlear fluid's high impedance. However, in glowwhales, there is no great difference between the outer and inner environments. Instead of sound passing through the outer ear to the middle ear, whales receive sound through the throat, from which it passes through a low-impedance fat-filled cavity to the inner ear. The glowwhale ear is acoustically isolated from the skull by air-filled sinus pockets, which allow for greater directional hearing underwater.
Glowwhales have a symbiotic relationship with a type of pink bioluminescent bacteria (Vibrio fischeri), which inhabit a special light organs in the creature's mantle and tentaclces. The bacteria are fed a sugar and amino acid solution by the glowwhale and in return hide the glowwhale's silhouette when viewed from below by matching the amount of light hitting the top of the mantle. The organ contains filters which may alter the wavelength of luminescence closer to that of downwelling moonlight and starlight; a lens with biochemical similarities to the glowwhale's eyes to diffuse the bacterial luminescence; and a reflector which directs the light ventrally. The bacteria can change the amount of light they produce in an instant, and are extremely sensitive to electric currents. Glowwhales can, in a sense, control how bright the bacteria glows by controlling the amount of electricity that passes through the light organs.
Life history and behaviorEdit
Males are called 'bulls', females, 'cows' and newborns, 'calves'. They do not maintain fixed partnerships and females have several mates each season.
The female usually delivers one to two eggs, which remain entangled in the tentacles close to the female's body. When they hatch, it can give the impression that they are in fact being birthed, while this is in fact not the case at all. The mother does not abandon her young, and rather cares for them in much the same way as a mammal would, taking them to places where the calves can feed. This can go on for up to a year, and is associated with a strong bond between mother and calf. Reproductive maturity occurs at seven to eight years of age. This mode of reproduction produces few offspring, but increases the survival probability of each one.
Glowwhales are known to teach, learn, cooperate, scheme and even grieve. The neocortex is home to elongated spindle neurons. In dwarves, these cells are involved in social conduct, emotions, judgement, and theory of mind. Glowwhale spindle neurons are found in areas of the brain that are homologous to where they are found in sapients, suggesting that they perform a similar function.
Sleep in glowwhales is not extensively studied. They are known to become motionless and unresponsive at night. An observational study of approximately 200 separate specimens around Division 4's capital reported many cases of apparent sleep. On the other hand, sleep patterns are easily disrupted and may disappear during periods of reproduction and parental care. It is speculated, however, that it is possible that glowwhales can essentially feed while asleep, making staying awake an unnecessary task.
Estimates of glowwhale lifespans vary wildly and are not well characterized. Whaling left few individuals to observe directly. Estimates range from 75 years to 250.
Glowwhales communicate using melodic sounds very similar to a true whale's whale song. These sounds can be extremely loud, and are often audible within shuttlecar tubes, transferring the vibrations from the tube's exterior, through the insulative bubble shield surrounding the car itself. They are apparently capable of making themselves heard over many miles if they are mating or feel they are in danger, although they make much softer sounds while feeding.
Glowwhales are generally classified as predators by the uninformed, but in reality they are gentle fulmivores, feeding off of waste electric and magnetic fields emanating from Parasol's underwater factories, labs and shuttlecar tubes. Their tentacles are extremely sensitive to the most minute electric currents, and although research has not been done to determine the precise distance at which a glowwhale can detect electric discharges, but it is thought to be at least a full nautical mile. Interestingly, glowwhales are not harmed by low levels of radiation, but instead are capable of absorbing it. It has been hypothesized that if a glowwhale was transported to a different planet lacking electrical structures, they would be able to survive largely on stray solar radiation, basking in the sunlight near the surface.
Relation to dwarvesEdit
Glowwhales are listed as an endangered species; this is primarily due to the impacts of whaling. They have been hunted commercially for whale oil, meat, and bones in the past and present, although it is an illegal practice punishable by capital punishment. At its peak, the Parasol whaling industry employed over 100,000 people and 1,000 vessels. More than 2 million glowwhales were taken, and many populations were severely depleted. Dwarvenkind remains the glowwhale's primary predator.
In urban legendEdit
Glowwhales are little understood, as they spend 100% of their lives underwater. They are the largest animals on Parasol, and some of the largest even on other planets. Parasol's citizens hold them in awe and feature them often in tall tales and urban legend. Many things about them are believed to be true that hold no basis in scientific fact, and they have gained an ominous name to themselves by popular belief. Even many educated people believe that glowwhales are dangerous beasts.