fat whales, fossils, and favorites (fwd)

From: Pita Admininstrator (pita@whale.wheelock.edu)
Date: Wed Oct 29 2003 - 07:25:57 EST

  • Next message: Pieter Folkens: "whales and sound"

    Subject: fat whales, fossils, and favorites

    > From Mike M. and Sam: Why are porpoises so fat compared to other
    > whales?
    > What does the new species of beaked whale look like and what is it
    > called?
    > When you attach a camera to a "critter" where do you put it?

    Compared to right whales porpoises are actually quite slender! The most
    slender dolphin is the Northern Right-whale Dolphin (which is not a
    right whale, but it is called that because it does not have a dorsal
    fin, like a right whale). The fattest dolphin is probably the Dall's
    porpoise (porpoises are in the super-family Delphinoidea). The most
    slender whale is the blue whale, with the fin and Bryde's whales (also
    in the family Balaenopteridae) similarly shaped. The fattest whale is
    the Bowhead whale (which is in the family of right whales, Balaenidae).

    The reason for 'fatness' has much to do with the physical nature of
    their environment. Cold water conducts body heat away rather quickly. A
    more rotund and fat animal has less surface area per body weight in
    contact with the water than a narrow and thin animal. Consequently, the
    fat animal can conserve body heat more effectively than a thin one. In
    very cold environments (like the Arctic) the animals tend to be fatter
    than their tropical counter parts. For example, Bowhead whales and
    Belugas are fatter than Bryde's whales and spinner dolphins. Similarly,
    a round house like a geodesic dome is more energy efficient than a
    sprawling ranch-style house.

    The new beaked whale is called Mesoplodon perrini, named after Dr.
    William H. Perrin. It looks very much like other beaked whales in the
    genus Mesoplodon, especially Mesoplodon hectori. If you would like a
    picture of it, I can send one along in another email.

    Originally we tried to put the critter cam on the middle of the back of
    the whale, just behind the blowhole. We discovered later on (and by
    accident) that we got more information by placing it on the side below
    the dorsal fin. In the previous placement we got great shots of the
    animal's blowhole, but that was about it. On the side we could see what
    the whale's companions were doing which was more valuable information
    for our studies.

    > From Zoe and Jaclyn: Have you ever been knocked out by a whale and if
    > so,
    > how did it feel? Could you give us some information on the new species
    > of
    > beak whale? What exactly is inside the melon of a whale? Why do Harbor
    > Porpoises stay so close to shore?

    'Never been knocked out by a whale. Almost by an Elephant Seal once,
    and I was bitten by a Hooded Seal once.

    See above regarding the new whale.

    The melon is a fatty structure. The melon of a sperm whale is filled
    with a fatty substance that is liquid at room temperature with the
    consistency of Elmer's glue. The purpose of the melon is to manipulate
    the sounds generated from the tapping of a bit of cartilage against the
    skull at the nares. Some researchers have theorized that the melon is
    also involved in buoyancy in deep-diving whales.

    The water is shallower close to shore. Harbor seals feed on fish and
    squid that do not live in deep water. So, the porpoises stay around
    where their food is.

    > From Julia and Stacy: How old were you when you first started to draw?
    > What is your favorite whale to draw and why? Have you ever adopted a
    > whale
    > and if so, what was his/her name?

    I made my first whale drawing at the age of 9. My third grade had taken
    a field trip to a place called Pyramid Hill to look at fossils and
    learn about geology. Following that experience I asked my mother if I
    could have my birthday party at Pyramid Hill looking for fossil sharks
    teeth. I found a 13.5 million year old sperm whale. Later that year I
    started drawing pictures of what I thought the whale might have looked
    like in life.

    I enjoy 'reconstructing' ancient/extinct whales from fossil material.
    It is like bringing these critters back to life, at least in a manner
    that we can appreciate what they looked like in life.

    I have never adopted a whale, but, being a researcher in the field, we
    come across whales that have not been identified before for the whale
    ID catalogs. We often give the animals names so they are easier to
    recognize and talk about when seen in future encounters. Last year we
    found a trio of young humpbacks feeding together. I named them after my
    kids, Arend and Alysen, and their friend Ariana.

    > From Ben and Traylor: What did you see with the cameras on the
    > "critters"
    > that was so surprising?

    We had theorized that whales use their flippers to "flash" prey.
    Critter Cam confirmed this. Most surprising was evidence that the
    whales are not all that friendly when feeding. We documented quite a
    bit of agonist (struggle and competition) behavior. The whales would
    deliberately bump and hit each other.

    > From Raquel and Jackie: How do you attach a camera to a sea "critter"?
    > What is your favorite species of whale and why?

    We use a suction device which includes a rubber disk and a scuba tank
    that sucks rather than releases air. The device is placed over the
    whale, the tank turned on, and the camera is sucked down on the whale.

    My favorite is diversity. What I mean is that the most fascinating and
    wonderful thing about all the whales is that there are so many
    different types, doing different things, and living in different
    places. If I were to identify one, I'd say the Vaquita (Phocoena
    sinus). This small porpoise is neglected and very endangered. My
    company is called "A Higher Porpoise DG" and we use a picture of a
    Vaquita in the logo.

    > From Andrew and John: What types of critters do you attach cameras to
    > and
    > what have you learned from doing this?

    I only work on the Humpback Whale Critter Cam team, though I have
    contributed a little to the Blue Whale and Brown Bear Teams. Critter
    Cam has been deployed on several dozen different animals including
    penguins, sea turtles, seals, sea lions, and killer whales. You can see
    these on the National Geographic Society cable channel next year in
    their series 'CritterCam Chronicles.' You can also go to the NGS web
    site and search for Critter Cam for more information.



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