whales, ancient and odd; whale art

From: Pieter Arend Folkens (animalbytes@earthlink.net)
Date: Mon Oct 09 2000 - 14:58:06 EDT

Dear Ms. Shirley:

That's quite a list. I will repeat each question with ">" at the beginning
of the line, then follow with my answer(s).

>from Jean-Paul and Sophia: Where do you live? Can you name 5 prehistoric
>whale species? What is the name of the whale that you discovered? What is
>the hardest whale to draw?

1) I live in Benicia, California, on the Carquinez Strait, though I spend
most summers in Alaska.
2) Zygohriza, Basilosaurus, Pakicetus, (Archaeocetes); Aetiocetus, (archaic
mysticete); Squalodon (archaic platanistoid odontocete).
3) Plesiocetus (primitive balaenopterid with a braincase similar to modern
humpback whales)
4) Indopacetus (a rare beaked whale apparently situated between Tasmacetus
and Hyperoodon in morphology)

>from Dannie: Have you ever tagged a whale? If so what does it sound like
>when it comes off?

Yes. I've put a video camera with a TDR (time, depth recorder) on the back
of humpback whales. We use a large suction cup. I don't know what it sounds
like when it comes off because we are usually several hundred meters away
when it does. But I suspect it doesn't make any noise at all.

>from Annabel and Nicholas: What is your favorite species of whale?

Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are a favorite because they are so intelligent
and socially complex. I like to paint the beaked whales.

>from Chris and Grace: How many bones are there in a blue whale? How many
>years have you been studying whales?

**The vertebral column has 64 plus about 20 chevrons; there are 15 ribs;
The skull is very complex and I have not counted all the bones in it. I do
know that there are 28 bones in the human skull, not counting the teeth.
Both humans and whales are mammals. However, blue whales do not have teeth,
and only one major ear bone, not three (or two versus six, counting both
sides). Blue whales also have two mandibles, whereas humans have only one
(actualy the left and right sides are fused at the "chin"). My guess would
be that blue whales have about 127 bones, give or take 4 either way.

>from Mitchell and Jenna M.: What is your favorite whale to draw? Have you
>ever drawn a beached whale?

As I mentioned above, I like to paint beaked whales (genus Mesoplodon.) I
think that one of the best represenations of a species I've done is that of
a Baird's beaked whale. Fin whale is among the most striking of the whales.
I don't draw beached whales -- rather I usually photograph them (unless you
mean beaked whale, not beached whale).

>from Rebecca and Nick: What was the name of the whale that you discovered
>in 1984?

Plesiocetus. Actually, I found a new species in the genus Plesiocetus. The
genus was established by another researcher earlier. Since I found my
unique critter, about six more examples of the species have been found.

>from Matthew and Parker: What is the most interesting thing you have ever
>done or found related to whales? When did you first become interested in

Watching how humpback whales orient themselves and engage in a coordinated
lunge feed using bubbles, flipper and fluke flashing, and making lound
sounds. It is also interesting to notice how they "disarticulate" their
mandibles (jaws) from their skulls so they can open the mouth wider than
their normal head.

I first became interested in whales the summer of my 9th birthday (4th
grade). I dug up a 13,500,000 year old sperm whale in the hills near my

>from Micaela and Dorothy: How many whales have you drawn that no one had
>ever seen before? Have you ever drawn real whales not skeletons? Have you
>ever been deep sea diving to see whales and if so was it for fun or so
>that you could draw afterward? Did you go to school to learn how to draw?

1) All of the ancient/prehistoric whale species I've drawn no one has seen
alive before. I've done a few dozen of them. As for the living whales, all
that are known have been seen by someone. There was one species called
Indopacetus which was known only from a couple of skulls until a couple of
years ago when Bob Pitman and his team saw them in the tropical Pacific
2) Under the heading of drawing "real whales" I'd like to point out that I
designed and sculpted the killer whales in the Free Willy film series as
well as Darwin in the TV series SeaQuest DSV and about 10 other feature
films. So there is an example of making "real whales," not skeletons.
3) I have swam with whales in the deep sea, but we did not go very deep
(too dark). It was fun, but the illustration work I do is so technically
accurate that I require much more detailed information that what I see
diving with whales.
4) I went to a university, but most of my drawing technique learning was
done though workshops with the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators,
especially at the Smithsonian Institution. Very few colleges teach good
technical scientific illustration techniques. For most of the 1980s I
taught science illustration at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

>from Jenna K. and Nina: Where are you from originally? What country or
>city do you draw whales in?

I am a native Californian. My father is from the northern province of the
Netherlands, a place called Friesland. My studio is in the small California
town of Benicia, on the Carquinez Strait where the Sacramento River enters
San Francisco Bay. We now get gray whales in this area each spring.

>from Peter and Aaron: Where did you go to college? How do you put whale
>bones together? Have you ever seen a blue whale?

San Jose State University and I taught at University of California, Santa
Cruz for most of the 1980s.
For my reconstructions I put the bones together on a computer. Each
vertebrae is a separate image, so I can move them around and arrange them
in order. When I work with fossil specimens, this is a good way to easily
estimate the space for missing material so I can reconstruct what the
animals once looked like.
I have seen many blue whales, especially in the Sea of Cortez and off the
coast of California from the Channel Islands to Cordell Bank off Bodega
Bay, California.

>from Elike and Pat: Do you have a wife and does she help you with your

Yes I do, and two kids: Arend 12, and Alysen 7, and a big dog, Yéik 4. The
wife does not help me as she is too busy as the Nursing Manager of a major
medical facility.

>from Gail and Louisa: How large is the biggest picture that you have ever
>drawn? Was the new whale species that you discovered prehistoric?

The largest work is not a flat painting, but a life-sized 3-dimensional
sculpture of a bowhead whale. We are in the process of finishing it at the
Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska. It is about 40 feet long and 40
feet in circumfrence. The whales I designed and sculpted for the Free Willy
films were large too. The Willy model was 24 feet. There were also two
20-footers in Wily II and III. In the film Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home, I
made a 4-foot model of a humpback whale which was made to look on screen
like it was 40 feet long.

Cheers all!

Pieter Folkens
Alaska Whale Foundation

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