Whales, hurt people? blow.

From: pulipal@netscape.net
Date: Fri Apr 25 2003 - 09:52:56 EDT

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    Dear Scientist,

    I am a 2nd grader studying mammals, and I have chosen the whale for my report. I'd like to know whether they ever hurt humans and how high the water gets when it comes out of the blowhole.

    Thank you very much,
    Kent Zelesky
    *********************
    Kent,

    Cool that you picked 'the whale'. Did you know that there are actually many, many different types of whales? I can somewhat answer your questions, but keep in mind, for me to really answer your questions, I would need to know if you picked a certain species like the blue whale or the sperm whale, or are talking about baleen whales versus toothed whales, etc.

    I don't think whales would intentionally hurt people, unless someone is trying to hurt them or is really bugging them. For example, we've all heard stories about whales breaking up the old whaling boats way back when, and people being killed as a result. However, there are some marine mammal photographers who have swum with various types of whales and not have had the whales hurt them. So, it probably depends on the situation. This doesn't mean I would just blindly trust the whale to not hurt me, because of course, they are much, much larger than I am, and can hold their breaths way longer than I ever could hope to.

    As for the 'water coming out of the blowhole', it might surprise you to know that there is no water coming out of the blowhole. The blowhole is like our nose, so only air is coming out. Sometimes there is water vapor in the air as it comes out, because of course, the air is moist coming out of the lungs. What we call 'the blow' includes exhaled air from the lungs, as well as the water that's around the blowhole as the whale comes to the water's surface to breathe.

    Blow height is different for each species. For example, on a windless day, a sperm whale has a low blow that is at an angle to the left. This is because the sperm whale has a blowhole that is on the left side of its head. How cool is that?!! Some baleen whales make bushy (or fluffy-like) blows, while others make tall, thinner blows. I'll give you different examples now. The North Atlantic right whale makes a V-shaped, bushy blow that is up to 16 ft high. The blue whale makes a tall, dense (not bushy), blow up to 30 ft.

    Hope this helps. Good luck with the project!

    Dagmar

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