Oil, career, management/conservation, how high can a dolphin jump, feeding habits, etc.

From: pulipal@netscape.net
Date: Mon Sep 23 2002 - 11:16:34 EDT

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    Dear Dagmar Fertl,

         We are the fifth grade class at Dedham Country Day School in Dedham,
    Massachusetts.  We are studying whales and we have some questions for you.

    Submitted by Alanna and Kristina: How does drilling for oil affect whales
    and how they live? What made you want to work with dolphins/whales?

    From Katie and Roxanna: How many whales and dolphins do you work with a
    day?

    From Audrey and Kaleigh: If a person were to kill a whale, what would the
    penalty be? What's your favorite marine mammal and why?

    From Josh and Davis: How high can a bottlenose dolphin jump? How high
    could it jump with a person on its back?

    From Ian and Will: What do you do for the army? What do dolphins and
    shrimp have to do with each other?

    From Ajanni and Patrick: Do dolphins do backflips? Do dolphins get along
    with other whales?

    From Esme and Callie: What got you interested in whales? What is your
    favorite type of whale and why? Do whales understand people in any way?

    From Alex and Matthew: Do blue whales eat giant squid? If not what do they
    eat?

    From Conor and Brad: Where does the baby grow in a whale?

    From Nat and Nadia: What is the smallest type of whale? What is the
    narwhal's tusk for? How many types of dolphins are there?

    From Rebecca and Denise: What kind of animals do you put radio tags on?
    What ocean do you usually do your research or work on?

    From Allena and Katharine: What ocean has the most whales? What kind of
    fish do whales eat?

    *********************************
    Hi all. Let me see if I can answer all of these great questions.

    Q: How does drilling for oil affect whales and how they live?
    A: Scientists are concerned with a variety of impacts from the oil and gas industry. You can find out more information on this topic by going to: http://www.gomr.mms.gov   The website for the Minerals Management Service (U.S. Dept of Interior) has an educational resources page and also some pages on whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. When a scientist considers impacts from oil/gas drilling, we are concerned with degradation of water quality resulting from operational discharges; noise from helicopter and boat traffic, operating platforms, and drillships; removal of platforms using explosives; noise and pressure waves from seismic surveys; oil spills; oil-spill response activities; and discarded debris (trash) from service boats and oil/gas structures.

    We're not really sure how it affects how they live. A lot of the problem is that to know how an animal is affected by something, you need to know the original behavior or distribution of the animals BEFORE something takes place. We can only speculate. Sometimes animals may leave an area temporarily or even permanently. Other times they stay in an area, even if it is loud or dangerous, because there is overriding motivation to stay there, such as lots of food, or they have their babies there.

    Q: What made you want to work with dolphins/whales?
    A: I think everyone would like to work with marine mammals. I was just lucky enough to do it. What sealed the deal for me was an internship at a marine mammal lab at the University of Hawaii where I got to work with dolphins every day for 4 months.

    Q: How many whales and dolphins do you work with a day?
    A: Unfortunately, I don't directly work with the animals face-to-face in my job. But, my job involves protecting thousands of whales and dolphins every day by providing good information to the Navy so that they don't accidentally hurt animals by doing their training exercises.

    Q: If a person were to kill a whale, what would the penalty be?
    A: Great question. It depends on where the event took place (U.S. waters or not) and if the person intentionally or accidentally killed the animal. In the U.S., we are not allowed to harm (or kill) marine mammals without some kind of permit or permission to do so. That permission is hard to get. For example, the Inuits in Alaska (Native Americans) are allowed to kill up to 10 bowhead whales a year for subsistence whaling. In Washington State, the U.S. government gave permission to the Native Americans there to kill gray whales for subsistence whaling. Even scientists have to permission from the U.S. government to study whales and dolphins, if the study means changing the behavior of the animals, putting a tag on them, etc.

    The fine itself depends on the government and how the court decides to punish the person. I believe the fine is upwards of $10,000 and you might also go to jail for a little while. The fines are certainly not equal to what would happen if a human being was killed, whether by accident or intentionally.

    Q: What's your favorite marine mammal and why?
    A: Hard to say, they're all cool in their own way. I like bottlenose dolphins a lot since that's what I studied for a long time. They are very adaptable and almost like the cockroach of the sea. It seems like they're everywhere and they take advantage of any situation to make it a meal or their home, it seems. Sperm whales are also very interesting since they are such deep divers, so huge, and are the largest whale species in the Gulf of Mexico. I also like Clymene dolphins, because not much is not known about them. Striped dolphins are really neat because their striping patterns are often different from one another and they are fanatical about jumping and leaping and doing all sorts of aerial behavior.

    Q: How high can a bottlenose dolphin jump?
    A: I don't think I know the answer to that. I imagine 10 ft up is probably a good guess.
     
    Q: How high could it jump with a person on its back?
    A: I think a person sitting on the back of a bottlenose dolphin would not be jumping in the air. Bottlenose dolphins are about the same size as adult humans (a bit larger though). You usually see a person at a marine park sitting on the back of a killer whale.

    Q: What do you do for the army?
    A: I don't do anything for the Army. I do contract work for the Navy though. We do assessments of the protected marine resources (marine mammals, sea turtles, birds, coral reefs, fishing activities, endangered species, etc.) in an area where the Navy does training exercises. We let the Navy know when they could likely expect these resources in an area and where, so that the Navy won't plan on doing some big thing when and in a spot where an endangered whale might be in the area.

    Q: What do dolphins and shrimp have to do with each other?
    A: I assume you kind of glanced at the webpage at WhaleNet about me. I studied the association of bottlenose dolphins with the shrimp fishery in Texas. There should be a link at the WhaleNet site to an article I wrote a long time ago. If not, run a search online with my last name and dolphin and shrimp and you should be able to locate it. Remember I said earlier that bottlenose dolphins are good about taking advantage of anything for a meal? Shrimp boats drag the ocean bottom for shrimp (because that's where shrimp like to rest). With each pound of shrimp a boat catches, they also get 5-8 pounds of bycatch they don't want. Bycatch is anything from fishes, crabs, etc. that are caught accidentally by the nets. Dolphins, sharks, birds, and even sea turtles like to follow the boats as the nets are working, to take advantage of an easy source of food. Instead of a dolphin working to find fish, the fish are found by the net. Instead of swimming like crazy to chase a fish, when a fish is caught or hit by a net, it'
    s stunned and disoriented and easy pickings for the dolphin. Kind of like fast food - like a McDonald's on the water.

    Q: Do dolphins do backflips?
    A: They can, but I think it's not as common as a front flip.

    Q: Do dolphins get along with other whales?
    A: Depends on who the dolphin or the whale is. Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family. Killer whales, pilot whales, and false killer whales are all actually large dolphins that are either known to eat other dolphins and whales, or at least harrass them sometimes.

    Q: What got you interested in whales?
    A: I mentioned this earlier. I did an internship in Hawaii. (see above)

    Q: What is your favorite type of whale and why?
    A: I answered this earlier (see above)

    Q: Do whales understand people in any way?
    A: Not sure what you mean by this. I don't think people understand whales and dolphins for the most part, so we can't really expect the opposite.

    Q: Do blue whales eat giant squid? If not what do they eat?
    A: This is actually a really good question. Blue whales are the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth, but they actually eat very, very small food. It is thought though that sperm whales might eat giant squid, though we don't have proof of this.

    Blue whales are plankton eaters, which mean they filter zooplankton (krill) from the water by using baleen. To eat squid, you more often that not will need teeth to be able to grab the squid before swallowing it. There are some squid eating large beaked whales that feed on squid by using suction...kind of like a vacuum cleaner.

    Q: Where does the baby grow in a whale?
    A: Like the vast majority of other mammals, the baby grows inside the mom's tummy in a place called the uterus.

    Q: What is the smallest type of whale?
    A: The smallest whale-like animal is the harbor porpoise at 4-5 ft in length.

    Q: What is the narwhal's tusk for?
    A: I'm going to ask you to go back to the WhaleNet website and look thru the archived questions and answers. I answered this a while back, and I'm sure that some other scientists have also answered this. It'll be good practice in looking for the answer! If you can't find it, write back and I'll tell you what the answer is.

    Q: How many types of dolphins are there?
    A: This is going to be the same deal here. Look back at WhaleNet first to see if you can locate the answer. Think of it as going to the library to look for information.

    Q: What kind of animals do you put radio tags on?
    A: Radio-tags can be put on all types of animals, small or large. I even recently saw such a tag on a jellyfish!! I personally have only helped to put tags on bottlenose dolphins.

    Q: What ocean do you usually do your research or work on?
    A: I usually do work in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, or North Atlantic Ocean.

    Q: What ocean has the most whales?
    A: Good question. I don't know that answer off the top of my head. Part of the problem is that some oceans haven't been studied as well as others. We also don't have a good handle on the whales that live in various oceans or even their numbers.

    Q: What kind of fish do whales eat
    A: Depends on which whale species or even which type of whale you're talking about. Some eat small fish, others can eat very large fish. Some eat bottom-dwelling fish, others eat mid-water or surface fishes. Some whales eat deep-dwelling fish that come closer to the water's surface at night as the deep scattering layer rises.

    **********
    Whew!!!
    Dagmar Fertl

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