whale questions

From: Phil Clapham (phillip.clapham@noaa.gov)
Date: Thu Sep 14 2000 - 08:57:31 EDT

Hi again:

These are great questions!
> from Nina and Matthew: What part of the world are there the most whales? Are there any whales that live in the Artic? How many teeth does a full grown Orcinus orca have?

The largest number of whales are in the Southern Ocean. Whalers killed
two million whales in this region during the 20th century, so many
species are strugling to recover. But it's still the area with the
largest populations, because it's very productive (lots of food).

Yes, lots of whales live in the Arctic. The beluga and narwhal live
there much of their lives, as does the big bowhead whale. But some
other species also enter Arctic waters sometimes, including humpbacks,
blues and fin whales.

I THINK killer whales have 40-50 teeth (will have to check that!)

> from Aaron and Elike: Have you ever seen a Narwhal's tooth?
Yes, I have, though I've never seen a narwhal in the wild. The
Smithsonian (where I used to work) has a great collection of narwhal's
tusks, some of them 9 feet long. They also have some narwhal skulls
with double tusks; these are rare, and interestingly they seem to occur
mostly in females (which normally don't have a tusk at all!)

> from Micaela and Peter: Have you ever swum with a whale? Have you ever found a whale beached? Have you ever touched baleen? What is the most number of whales that you have seen together at one time?
Yes, I've swum with humpback whales in the Caribbean. I've seen many
whales beached, including pilot whales, various dolphins, humpback, fin,
blue, minke and right whales. I've touched a lot of baleen from some of
these dead whales on beaches (it's hard, like big fingernails which are
made of the same substance, called keratin). The largest number of
whales I have ever seen at one time was in July 1986 southeast of Cape
Cod in a place called the Great South Channel. There were probably 150
fin whales, about 150 humpbacks, as well as some sei whales, a few right
whales and thousands of dolphins! It was incredible!

> from Patrick and Louisa: Have you ever named a whale if so, what did you name it?
Yes, I've named lots of whales (all humpbacks). Our study population in
the Gulf of Maine is all named (1300 humpbacks now). They're all named
based on marks (you find a mark that looks like something and pick a
name based on that - then when you see the whale, the mark reminds you
of who it is). For example, I named a whale Anchor because she had a
mark on her tail that looked a lot like an anchor.
> from Gail and Jenna K.: Where is the farthest place from the US that you have studied whales?
The Okhotsk Sea, off the coast of Russia, where I worked on bowhead
whales. Also Sri Lanka.

> Parker and Dorothy: How many kinds of whales are there? How long is an
> average narwhal's horn? What do toothed whales eat? Have you ever seen the complete skeleton of a whale? When did you start wanting to study whales?
There are about 80 kinds of whales (see the answer yesterday). An
average narwhal's tusk depends on how old the whale is. They can grow
to about ten feet in length, so in younger animals they will be
smaller. The average adult male narwhal probably has a tusk 5-8 feet

I've seen several skeltons of whales. I worked for four years at the
Smithsonian (the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC),
where they have the largest collection in the world of marine mammal

I started wanting to study whales when I first saw one in 1980.

Have fun with school!

Phil Clapham


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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Aug 04 2001 - 10:40:13 EDT