Whales on land

From: Phil Clapham (phillip.clapham@noaa.gov)
Date: Fri Sep 08 2000 - 10:20:51 EDT


That's a great question. The reason whales die rather quickly when
they're stranded on a beach is two things. First, their bones are
lightweight and porous, much lighter than the bones of land animals.
this is because, in the water, the bones don't have to provide the kind
of support that ours do on land, so they've evolved more as places for
muscles to attach to than for actual support. On land (away from the
buoyant water where gravity isn't a big factor), the whale literally
crushes itself under its own weight.

Second, they overheat. Most whales are designed to live in cold water,
which takes heat out of a body some 20 times faster than air does.
Their fat (blubber) insulates them very well in the water. On land,
however, they dont have the cooling of the water, and the blubber makes
them overheat. Dead whales literally cook inside, since after death the
thermoregulatory mechanisms that normally cool the animal are shut down,
and decomposition sets in, inside what is essentially a big pressure
cooker (the body).

Hope this answers your daughter's questions!

Phil Clapham

> Manoj Anjaria wrote:
> My five years old is asking these questions and we don't have answer
> for those. The questions are what happens to the whales when they come
> out on the land? Can they survive unlike fish? If not then why? The
> whale breaths through the lungs so why can't it survive on land like
> humans do?
> I will really appreciate if you can answer his questions.
> Thank you in advance.
> Manoj


Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D. Large Whale Biology Program Northeast Fisheries Science Center 166 Water Street Woods Hole, MA 02543

tel (508) 495-2316 fax (508) 495-2258 Internet: phillip.clapham@noaa.gov

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