whale questions

From: Phil Clapham (pclapham@whsun1.wh.whoi.edu)
Date: Thu Oct 02 2003 - 09:56:29 EDT

  • Next message: Phil Clapham: "whale college"

    > Hi,
    Hi y'self!

    > Thank you in advance for answering my fifth graders' questions. They are
    > excited to hear from you!
    It's a pleasure!

    >>From Eva and Kim: What is your favorite whale and why? What is your least
    > favorite whale and why?
    Hmm, my favorite whale would have to be the humpback whale. I've woked
    with them for years and they very cute and very curious, so they often
    come right up to your boat to check you out. I don't really have a
    least favorite whale - they're all pretty amazing!

    >>From Shay, Peter, and Timmy: What does a sei whale look like?
    That's easy - see the attached photo! They look kind of like fin whales
    but often have
    pitted circular scars over their body, which come from the bites of an
    animal called the cookie-cutter shark.

    >>From Rebecca and Cassie: How do Sei whales act? Are sei whales baleen or
    > toothed whales?
    Sei whales are baleen whales, so they don't have teeth. They are very
    fast animals
    and they feed on lots of different things. Other baleen whales are
    either "gulpers" or "skimmers" when they feed, but sei whales do both.
    Gulpers take one big mouthful of water and food, strain out the water
    and swallow the food; skimmers move through the water with their mouths
    open and filter the food continuously. Humpback whales are gulpers,
    right whales are skimmers - and as I said, sei whales do both.

    >>From Dylan and John Fi.: How big is a blue whale's brain? What are the
    > titles of some of the books you have written?
    A blue whale's brain actually isn't that huge compared to the size of its
    body: a 100-ton blue whale had a brain that was weighed at only 15
    pounds. Bigger than yours or mine, but then a blue whale's body is way,
    way bigger than our bodies - but the brain isn't that much larger. An
    elephant's brain is about 11 pounds. The biggest brain is that of the
    sperm whale, which weighs around 20 pounds.


    Clapham, P. 2004. Right whales. Baxter Press, UK (in press).

    Reeves, R.R., Stewart, B.S., Clapham, P.J. & Powell, J.A. 2002. The
    Audubon Guide to Marine Mammals. Knopf, New York.

    Clapham, P. 1996. Humpback whales. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, Minnesota.

    Clapham, P. 1997. Whales of the World. Voyageur Press, Stillwater,

    >>From Michael B. and Scott: How long is a narwhal's tusk?
    Only male narwhals have tusks, and these can be up to 10 feet or so in
    They're beautiful. Once in a while you find a double-tusked narwhal,
    and for
    some reason these animals are usually female! No one knows why.

    >>From Mariah and Allie: How do Sei whales eat?
    Please see the above....

    >>From Andrew and John Fr: Have you ever touched a whale? If so, what kind?
    Yes, I've touched several whales. Live humpback whales, and also many
    dead whales. Their skin feels kind of rubbery.

    > What is the most common species of whale of the coast of Scotland?
    Probably the minke whale.

    > What whales have you swum with?
    Humpback whales. They're very cool!

    How big is a Sei whale? Why do whales breach?
    They get to around 65 or 70 feet at most. We dont know why whales
    breach except that breaching is done for several different reasons.
    Sometimes its play 9especially in calves), sometimes it may be a way of
    signalling position to other whales, and sometimes it seems to be just

    > What is the most intelligent species of whale? What is a narwhal's horn
    > used for?
    Depends on how you define "intellience". I think most scientists would say
    that toothed whales (like dolphins) are smarter than baleen whales. The
    kille whale seems to be very smart, so that would be my best guess; but
    we really
    dont know what "intelligence" means to a whale - all our definitions are
    based on human behavior.

    A narwhal's tusk is used for competition between males when they're
    fighting for females.

    >>From Julia and Stacy: How big do sei whales get? Have you ever swum with
    > whales? How do whales make bubble nets?
    First two: see above. Bubble nets: humpback whales release bubbles from
    blowholes in a circle or spiral around a school of fish. It's very
    cool. they also blow bubble clouds, which are different - they release
    a huge amount of air from their mouths and it comes to the surface in a
    big cloud, trapping the fish.

    >>From Zoe and Jaclyn: Have your ever been knocked out by a whale and if so,
    > how did it feel?
    Nope! And if you got hit by a whale's tail, it would probably kill you.
      The tails are huge - up to 20 feet across in some whales!

    Have you ever seen whales fight and if so, what did it
    > look like?
    Yes, I've seen male humpback whales fight over females during the
    breeding season. They slam into one another or slash each other with
    their big tails.

    Where are sei whales found and why?
    All over the place. They move around a lot, and can be found close to
    shore or far from land. They go where their food is.

    Why are sperm whales called sperm whales?
    Because when whalers first cut open their heads they found a very
    slippery substance inside which they called "spermaceti" - which means
    "sperm of the whale". They thought it was whale semen. it's actually a
    very valuable oil-like substance that probably is used for focusing the
    whale's sonar beams.

    Do whale hiccup?
    Not that anyone knows!

    Are whales smart and how do you know?
    See above...

    > species of whale has the biggest population?
    Probably minke whales, partly because they were never hunted as much as
    the bigger whales were.

    >>From Mike M. and Sam: How did the Sei whale get its name?
    It's a Norwegian word which means "coalfish" (another name for what we
    call pollack).
    Whalers either saw sei whales feeding on pollack or thought that sei
    whales appeared off the coast when the pollack did. People say the word
    "sei" two ways: "Say" and "Sigh". Most people say "say" but actually
    the correct pronunciation in the Norwegian is "sigh".

    >>From Ben and Traylor: How much blubber does a Sei whale have?
    Around six inches thick.

    > Have you
    > ever swum with an odontoceti whale and if so, what kind?
    Dolphins, yes. Spotted and spinner dolphins. But no big toothed whales.

    >What is the most
    > fearsome whale you have ever seen?
    Well, whales mostly leave you alone or are friendly, but sperm whales
    are pretty scary!

    >>From Raquel and Jackie: have you ever swum with a group of sperm whales?

    > Have you ever swum with a family of belugas?

    Would you like to swim with
    > right whales?
    yes, that would be interesting. But swimming with whales has to be done
    carefully so that you dont disturb the animal; and actually it's illegal
    in the US.

    What is the best part about studying whales?
    Being around them. They're very cool animals!

    Have fun with whales!

    phil Clapham

    > Many thanks,
    > Sue Shirley
    > Dedham Country Day School
    > Dedham, MA


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

    tel. 508 495-2316 fax 508 495-2066 email: pclapham@whsun1.wh.whoi.edu


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