That headline doesn't make any sense, you say? Well, neither does the public-relations pitch I received this morning via an email carrying this subject line: "U.S. Debt Weighs as much as 44,000 Blue Whales." Here's the first sentence:
"If you take a look at the running National Debt Clock, the weight of U.S. debt is almost as much as 44,000 blue whales (if $1=1 lb) ... and there aren't even that many blue whales in the world anymore!"
If a dollar equals a pound? But a dollar does not, in fact, weigh a pound, not even in the often fantastical world of public relations.
So what does a dollar weigh? And, more to the point, how many dollar bills must one amass to have a blubberish pound of them?
Figuring that the first Google search result was plenty good enough for this weighty exercise, it seems that a dollar bill weighs about a gram so you'd need a stack of 454 to get your pound of flesh.
And that would mean the weight of the U.S. debt is almost as much as 96.9162 blue whales -- let's call it an even 97 - if you're willing to make the reckless assumption that the PR professional got the math right relative to the debt and the weight of your typical blue whale. (Looks like they didn't, though. Dividing the 14-digit debt number by the 190-ton weight of a typical blue gets me 44 million whales. ... But I could be wrong.)
We do know this much, though: According to a 2002 report, the actual worldwide population of blue whales numbers somewhere between 5,000 and 12,000.
However, that census is more than a decade old and it's clearly not a good trend for the whales if we don't do something about the debt.
(Update: Better mathematicians checking in below in comments. I'd trust them.)