whale questions

From: Phil Clapham (phillip.clapham@noaa.gov)
Date: Thu Oct 11 2001 - 08:40:49 EDT


> >From Jon and Neelum: Why do you like to study the bigger whales?

Cause they're very cool. They're big and really interetsing.

>What is your favorite type of whale and why?
Humpback whales. I used to study a population out here off Cape Cod
where all the individuals are known - they're all dientified from their
tail patterns, which are different for every animal. So I knew all
these animals just like individual people. They're very interesting,
they often come over to boats and they have very cool behaviors like

>Have you ever rescued a whale and why did it need help?
Most whale rescue off our coast is done by the Center for Coastal
Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts. They do this because whales get
entangled in fishing gear and can die if they're not rescued.

>Have you ever touched a whale and if so how did it feel?
Yes - the skin is kind of rubbery in texture.

> >From Cassandra, Matt, and Bo: Why do whales sing?
Only males sing, and they probably do it because they're trying to
attract females in the breediung season. They may also be telling other
males to stay away.

>How does a whale evolve and why?
Whales evolved starting about 60 million years ago, from a much smaller
land animal. This animal probably started spending more and more time
in the water to find food and also maybe to get away from predators.
Gradually the land animals evolved adaptations for making life in the
water easier (tails, flippers, the ability dive for a long time etc),
and eventually they became completely aquatic.

>Have you ever found a giant squid inside a sperm whale?
Nope! But they do eat very large squid!
> >From Tim and Jehane: Have you ever had to kill a whale in order to > study it?
Wow, I've never had THAT quetsion before! No, never. Just about
anything you need to learn you can find out from living whales, and I
would never be involved in any research which involved killing the

>How did you first become interested in researching whales and how old
> were you when you first started?
I was 24 and I became involved with whales by accident. I happened to
be on Cape Cod, saw whales, then volunteered with a research institution
for a winter. That led me to a job and a career (and back to school for
a PhD, which is pretty necessary if you're serious about this business!)

>Have you ever studied narwhals?
No I havent, but a friend of mine studies them in the Arctic.

>What was the first whale that you ever studied? What are some of the discoveries that you have made about whales?
I have worked with most large whales at one time or another but
humpbacks are always my first love. Most of my work has been about
either large whale population biology (how many whales there are, how
the population is structured, that sort of thing) or behavior. One of
the more interesting things I've "discovered" about humpback whales,
with friends, is that humpbacks, like people, are mostly right-handed!

> >From Anisha and Derek: Have you ever seen a whale and what did it do?
I have seen thousands and thousands of whales, and have seen them do
everything from feding to bursing their babies to jumping out of the
water. And lots of other things!
> >From George and Samantha: Why did you chose to study whales and not
> another animal?
Because they're beautiful to me and I love being around them. And
they're fascinating.
> >From Hannah and Andrew: Of all the books that you have written which is
> your favorite and why?
Well, I've written only two books plus a lot of scientific papers. I
enjoyed working on the "Whales of the World" book most. I'm working on
a third book right now about whales and whale biologists.

>What whale are you most interested in and why?
Humpbacks - see above.

Good luck!


The Society for Marine Mammalogy will be holding its 14th Biennial
Conference from 28 November to 3 December 2001, in Vancouver, BC.  Visit
the conference Web site at www.smmconference.org for full details of
this important meeting.

Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D. Large Whale Biology Program Protected Species Branch Northeast Fisheries Science Center 166 Water Street Woods Hole, MA 02543, U.S.A.

tel. 508 495-2316 fax 508 495-2066 email: phillip.clapham@noaa.gov

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