(a whole bunch of) whale questions

From: Greg Early (gearly1@earthlink.net)
Date: Mon Oct 27 2003 - 13:26:00 EST

  • Next message: Greg Early: "project"

    Ms. Shirley ... another enthusiastic crew here ... I've stuck the answers after the questions ...

    here goes ...

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Sue Shirley <sshirley@dedhamcountryday.org>
    Sent: Oct 23, 2003 8:58 AM
    To: gearly1@earthlink.net, pita@whale.wheelock.edu
    Subject: whale questions


    Thank you very much in advance for answering my fifth graders' questions.
    they are looking forward to hearing from you.

    From Eva and Kim: What is your favorite whale and why? What is your least
    favorite whale and why?

    Eva and Kim... Favorite whale? Actually my favorite was a Risso's dolphin (does that count). Although I like pilot whales as well. Least favorite ... any whale that is stuck ashore ...that is not what you wanted though... right?

    From Shay, Peter, and Timmy: What does a sei whale look like?

    Shay, Peter, Timmy ... Sort of like a fin whale with a bad paint job ??? No really ... sei whales are a bit smaller, but pretty much the same general shape as a fin whale. One of the main differences, besides the size is that fin whales have a white stripe on the right side of their head and baleen... sei whales do not ...

    From Rebecca and Cassie: How do Sei whales act? Are sei whales baleen or
    toothed whales? Rebecca and Cassie ... How do sei whales act? Have you ever seen Marlon Brando? (sorry that is a bad joke that you won't get but maybe Ms. Shirley will explain it to you ...) We do not know too much about sei whale behavior because they spend most of their times offshore and are hard to tell apart (see answer above about markings). I am told by folks that havbe watched them from whalewatch boats that they tend to zoom around at the surface a lot (sei whales will feed on plankton) , but that is about all I know.

    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 brain... well the general number people throw around is that it weighs about 10-15 pounds. About the size of a couple of large overnight suitcases side by side. Sperm whales are not as long as blue whales but have a brain that is slightly larger.

    Books ... Well ... I wrote a cheaper in a book titled (I am not making this up) “Orthomyxovirus and Paramyxovirus” , Mel Gibson is to star in the movie (that part I AM making up).

    From Michael B. and Scott: How long is a narwhal's tusk? Michael B and Scott, Depends on the whale I guess. Generally, only male whales grow them and they (the tusks) can get to be over ten feet long ...

    From Mariah and Allie: How do Sei whales eat? Mariah and Allie, Your class would not be studying sei whales right now would it?? Sei whales are the type of whales that are very active feeders, using their baleen to scoop up large numbers of prey. They squeeze out the water, eat the prey and have another go. Generally the behavior of these whale sis grouped into "Skimming", and "lunging" (some whales, humpbacks, also use bubbles to feed). This describes the way the whales rush through their prey when they are feeding. Sei whales tend to be "skimmers" and "lungers" ...

    From Andrew and John Fr: Have you ever touched a whale? If so, what kind?
    What is the most common species of whale of the coast of Scotland? What
    whales have you swum with? How big is a Sei whale? Why do whales breach?
    What is the most intelligent species of whale? What is a narwhal's horn
    used for?

    Andrew and John,

    I've touched quite a few (if you include dolphins even more). (the answer to the questions you didn't ask ... how do they feel?... Peel a hardboiled egg and put it in cold water for a few minutes... pretty much like that ...). Off the coast of Scotland? Just guessing here, but I'd bet minke and maybe fin whales.

    How big are sei whales? A bit smaller than a fin whale ... about 50-65 feet.
    Why do whale breech? Scientists are not really sure, but it seems like it is sort of up to the whale. Some whales seem to do it as play (young whales) some scientists think that it might be to communicate of knock off parasites. I have a cat that stares at the ceiling every so often ... don't know why he does that either ...

    From Julia and Stacy: How big do sei whales get? Have you ever swum with
    whales? How do whales make bubble nets?

    Most intelligent. Hard question, because it is so hard to measure intelligence. Most scientists agree that of the whales, the sperm whale has the biggest, and the best developed brain. What they use that brain for, we know less about.

    Narwhale horn (??) ... They honk it at whales that drive in the fast lane with their blinkers on ... (sorry... ) Narwhales have "tusks" ... teeth actually that grow out of the front of their face. (Horns are made of different stuff and grow out of your head). Scientists are not sure what they use this for, but it seems like they sort out their place in narwhale social situations by waving their tusks around. In that way they might be using them a bit like deer use their horns...

    From Zoe and Jaclyn: Have your ever been knocked out by a whale and if so,
    how did it feel? Have you ever seen whales fight and if so, what did it
    look like? Where are sei whales found and why? Why are sperm whales called
    sperm whales? Do whale hiccup? Are whales smart and how do you know? What
    species of whale has the biggest population?

    Zoe and Jaclyn: Does a dolphin count? If so, see the answer above about the hard boiled egg and imagine a baseball bat that is wrapped in a giant hard boiled egg. Have that bat swung by someone like Trot Nixon and you are getting close. MOST unpleasant.

    Would pilot whales count?? I would not call it a fight, sort of a shoving match. They were young whales and seemed to be mostly playing.

    Where are sei whale found? I suppose I can't get away with " in the ocean" ... But we do not know a lot about how they are distributed in the ocean. They seem to be scattered in most of the oceans. Most whales have feeding and breeding areas, but I do not know if anyone knows of specific breeding areas for sei whales.

    Sperm whales got their names from the "spermaceti" ... a wax like oil ... that whalers found in their heads (the heads of sperm whales that is...) It was also called "junk" and was used to make expensive candles (expensive because they burned very brightly, without making smoke).

    Hiccups? Not that I have heard of ... I have seen seals with hiccups though ...

    Are whales smart? Well, there is a debate about that, some people think they are about as smart as people, some think they are about as smart as cows (and I suppose some people think other people are as smart as cows as well). Most scientists think the toothed whales and dolphins are smarter than the baleen whales, but that is based mainly on anatomy. It depends a great deal on how you define "intelligence" and how you measure it.

    Largest whale population??? Minke whales I think...

    From Mike M. and Sam: How did the Sei whale get its name?

    Mike M and Sam: Well, there was this Norwegian comedy team , and one guy would go "Sei whale" and the other guy would go "whale" ... really cracked them up. No, No, I am totally making that up. Sei whales WERE named for a Norwegian word for a fish that was found near where sei whales were feeding. Actually it is not even pronounced like "SAY" in Norwegian ... (more like "SIGH")

    From Ben and Traylor: How much blubber does a Sei whale have? Have you
    ever swum with an odontoceti whale and if so, what kind? What is the most
    fearsome whale you have ever seen?

    Ben abd Tralor: How much blubber... I am not really sure, but large whales about the size of sei whales would have five to maybe eight inches of blubber, depending on the time of year and how well fed they are ...

    Have I swum with a toothed whale? I worked for an Aquarium for a long time and spent a lot of time in the water with a lot of different animals (including dolphins and small whales).

    The most fearsome whale? Have to be Moby Dick in the movies ... for real? I was in the water near a pod of pilot whales once. It was sort of like watching a train go by, only it was hard to tell where the tracks went. That made me a nervous.

    From Raquel and Jackie: have you ever swum with a group of sperm whales? Nope ... but I did help take care of a stranded baby sperm whale, which meant that I spent about a week in the water with a little one. I also spent a bit of time in the water with a larger stranded whale (a few hours).

    Have you ever swum with a family of belugas?
    Family ? No... Belugas? Yes. I was helping with a research project so it was not exactly for fun.

    Would you like to swim with right whales? Not at all ...

    What is the best part about studying whales? Getting to learn something new or getting to meet a new one.


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

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