whales

From: NAMMACETA@aol.com
Date: Wed Oct 18 2000 - 15:43:16 EDT


Hello and thank you for your wonderful questions!!!! You must be doing a lot
of research and reading and writing about whales, because these are terrific
questions.

I'll try and answer all of them. If I forgot any, please write again.
Perhaps when the second half of your class writes to me.

Have you ever touched baleen?: Yes I have. I have some specimens that I use
for educational purposes when I teach classes. Baleen is made of keratin
(care-uh-tin) the same as our fingernails and toenails and hair and horses
hooves! So you can feel it just by touching your own fingernails, or shaking
hands with a horse.

Have you ever seen Orcas eat at sea?: I have been lucky enough to see Orcas
eat in the wild. I once saw a group of about a dozen Orcas feeding on a big
school of unidentified fish off the coast of Big Sur in California. Orcas
are dolphins, and if you get to see dolphins feeding off of the Massachusetts
coast, you will see a good example of how Orcas feed on fish too.

The numbers of right whales still alive today: Sadly there are very few right
whales alive in the North Atlantic. Maybe 300-360 still swim in the Gulf of
maine and the North Atlantic. Only a few hundred live in the Pacific, and
perhaps several thousand southern right whales live in the South Atlantic.
The Whale Conservation Institute in Lincoln, Massachusetts has done much work
with that population. The New England Aquarium's Right Whale Project and the
Center For Coastal Studies in Provincetown keep an eye on the right whales
around here.

Average size of a humpback whale's flipper: adult humpbacks have flippers
about 12' to 15' long. Those are looooong finger bones in there!!!!!!!!!!!
And the flippers weigh 500 to 1000 pounds!

The amount of baleen in a right whales mouth?: Baleen whales have about
700-800 individual plates of baleen in their mouths. You might contact the
groups I mentioned above and ask them how many plates they have counted
inside right whale's mouths. They have counted the plates when they have
examined beached right whales. A plate is an individual piece of baleen.

The length of right whale baleen?: right whale baleen can be as long as 9
feet. If you contact those groups, ask them how long the longest piece they
have ever seen is. Bowhead whales have baleen that may be as long as 14 feet
or longer!

Where do I live?: I live in Maine.

New England Whale Watch is headquartered from Maine.

How many people go whale watching on a typical day?: That is a good
question. With more than 25 boats operating from Cape Cod to Canada, with
passenger capacities of 40 to 300, and most running two trips a day, then on
a warm July Sunday perhaps 7000 or more people go out to look for whales on
a whale watch boat. That was an excellent question! I had to stop and get a
calculator.

A good project for you would be to get the list of whale watch companies in
New England from WhaleNet. Then write to those companies and ask for a
brochure. Find out how many people they can carry when full, and how many
trips they can do, and do some math estimating as to how many people go whale
watching from New England. Don't forget to subtract a certain number of
stormy days when the boats don't go out. You could also estimate how much
money is generated just through whale watch tickets, and compare that to how
much money could be made through whaling.

Have I ever found a whale skeleton?: My 5 year old son keeps asking me that
same question!! You kids must all be thinking about Halloween!
I have found several, not fossils, but when on remote beaches I have found
dead whales and skeletons. On some beaches it is possible to find scattered
bones. Fishermen from Massachusetts often find whale bones in their nets.

How far from shore do I go to see a whale?: That depends on where we go.
Off of Provincetown, we may go just a mile sometimes. From New Hampshire,
Maine and northern Massachusetts, we may go 40 miles sometimes. My good
friend Carl Haycock of Brier Island Ocean Study in Brier Island, Nova Scotia,
often sees whales from the cliffs of his island.

Where can we see narwhals?: In the colder Arctic waters.

What does it sound like when a humpback whale sings and why do they sing?:
When you are underwater around singing humpbacks, it sounds just like it does
from a tape or cd. But it sounds clearer because you do not have all of the
background noise that you might have in a room. Also, because of the
powerful sound vibrations, you feel the sound as well as hear it. If any of
you take a February vacation in the British Virgin Islands, or the Dominican
Republic, try listening when you snorkel. Whales sing to attract mates. In
humpbacks, males do the singing, and it is done almost entirely on and while
going to their Caribbean mating and birthing waters.

How fast are Orcas?: Orcas, like other dolphins, swim along at 8-12 knots (a
knot is 1.1 mph). However, they can sprint at speeds of over 20 knots. The
Cousteaus once reported a herd of dolphins passing them at over 40 knots!!

Have I ever touched a whale?: Yes, I have been lucky to touch some whales in
the wild. Mostly humpbacks.

How many hours do I work?: When on the water, we may be on a boat 12 hours,
or as long as several days without getting off. Then there is the time off
the boat looking at notes, photos, and writing.

What was the first whale I ever saw?: The first whale that I can remember
seeing was from a cliff in northern California. Two gray whales were very
close to the beach in January, while travelling south to their winter waters
off Mexico. The first I saw from a boat, was a very large finback whale off
the coast of Maine with the College of The Atlantic from Bar Harbor.

Thank you again for your super good questions! I hope I got them all.

Scott Mercer



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