General questions about whales

From: Cathy Schaeff (
Date: Wed Sep 10 2003 - 11:27:22 EDT

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    Hi kids,

    Wow, you have a lot of questions. I';ll give you many of the answers (see
    below, inserted after questions). You can get the answers for any that I
    don't provide by searching the whalenet site ("How to Find"

    Have fun,

    Cathy Schaeff
    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Sue Shirley" <>
    To: <>
    Sent: Friday, September 05, 2003 8:01 AM
    Subject: whales


    Thank you very much in advance for answering my fifth grade students'
    questions. We started school yesterday so, as you can tell from their
    questions, they don't know much about whales yet!

    1. From Eva and Kim: Why do Narwhals have horns?

    Only males have horns. They are used to establish dominance among males for
    access to females (the same way elk or deer use their antlers).

    2. How do whales get collosities?

    Callosities are found on right whales. They are made of a tough horny
    material and are probably used by males to fight for a position beside a
    female during mating.

    3. From Scott and Michael B. : Are dolphins whales or are whales dolphins?

    Dolphins are small toothed whales.

    4. From Shay, Timmy, and Peter: Where can you find blue whales?

    Blue whales are found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, in both
    hemispheres. (

    5. From Mariah and Allie: How did you become interested in whales?
    I have been interested in whales since i was really young. I read my parents
    Life books on animals and birds and really liked looking at the whale

    6. From John F. and Dylan: How big do blue whales get?

    The average length of a Blue Whale is 75-80 feet and these long marine
    mammals can weigh up to 200,000 pounds. Whales in the southern hemisphere
    are generally larger than those in the northern hemisphere. One whale
    captured in the southern hemisphere reached lengths up to 110 feet. Females
    are usually larger than males of the same age.(

    7. How many species of whales have teeth?
    There are more than 70 species toothed whales and dolphins (called
    odontocetes) including sperm whales, orcas, beluga, narwhales and a large
    number of smaller species (includes dolphins, river dolphins, beaked whales,
    and porpoises).

    8. From Rebecca and Cassie: What is the smallest whale and how small is it?

    The smallest of the baleen whales is the pygmy right whale, which may only
    grow to be 20 feet long. BUT, since the pygmy right whale has rarely been
    seen, very very little is known about it, and it may be larger than that.
    The smallest of the well known whales is the minke whale, which grows to be
    about 35 feet.

    The toothed whales are much smaller than the baleen whales. These are not
    the true "whales" (which usually means baleen whales). There's the dwarf
    sperm whale, the melon headed whale, and the pygmy killer whale, each of
    which get to maximum lengths of about 8 feet (the size of regular
    dolphins). But, remember that all whales and dolphins together are called
    "Cetaceans". Some Cetaceans have baleen instead of teeth, and they are
    called whales. All other Cetaceans have teeth. Some toothed Cetaceans are
    called whales, some are dolphins, and some are porpoises. ( answered by Jen
    Smallest whale is the

    9. Why are whales so big?
    Largest whales are the baleen species. They are low on the food web and so
    are able to grow very large.

    10. From Julia and Stacy: How many baby whales can a whale have at one time?
    Usually females have a single calf at a time.

    11. How many species of whales are there? How deep can whales dive?
    There are a lot of whale species (more than 70 toothed whales , odontocetes)
    plus 11 baleen species. (look at this link:

    12. From Traylor, and Ben: How many whales are in one pod?
    Depends upon the species (orca pods can have as many as 50 individuals) and
    some species are not social so they don't form pods but instead hang out
    alone or with one or two other whales except when they gather in larger
    groups for mating.

    13. How much blubber does a whale have?
    Depends upon the species. Right whales have the most with about 23 cm on
    average. The thickness varies by season and by breeding stage.

    14. From John F. and Andrew: Why do some whales have dorsal fins?
    Most species have dorsal fins which may help the animals move through the
    water. However, since a number of species do not have fins (e.g., right
    whales, bowhead and finless porpoise) obviously whales can swim without them

    15. How long can a sperm whale hold its breath?
    All whales and dolphins are mammals and so must hold their breath when they
    are under water. Some can only hold their breath for 3-5 minutes. But then
    there are the champion breath holders, the sperm whale and beaked whales,
    who can hold their breath for over an hour!

    16. How much does a baby blue whale weigh?

    The newborn calf is about 25 feet long (7.6 m) and weighs about 6-8 tons
    (5.4-7.3 tonnes).

    17. From Sam and Michael M.: What are the bristles in the bowhead whale's
    The bristles are actually called baleen. The animals use them to sift out
    food from the water they take into their mouth.

    18. How long can a blue whale hold its breath?
    About 30 minutes.

    19. From Jackie and Raquel: How many babies does a female right whale have?
    Usually she has one calf.

    20. How do whales digest their food?

    Hmm, I'm not sure but i suspect they do it the same way humans do -- with
    digestive enzymes and churning of the stomach.

    21. From Zoe and Jaclyn: Why do you live in Wash, D.C. if there are no
    around? I work at a university, American University in Washington DC. I go
    off to the ocean when i need to watch the whales i study.

    22. Why do bowhead whales have growths on their heads?

    I think that you mean right whales. The growths are callosities and are made
    of a hard horny material. They may be used by males to fight for a position
    during mating.

    Thanks again,
    Sue Shirley
    Dedham Country Day School
    Dedham, MA

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