whale questions

From: Erich Hoyt (erich.hoyt@virgin.net)
Date: Sat Dec 06 2003 - 06:28:47 EST

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    I'll put some answers after the questions below. Good luck in your research.


    Erich Hoyt

    >From: "Sue Shirley" <sshirley@dedhamcountryday.org>
    >To: erich.hoyt@virgin.net, pita@whale.wheelock.edu
    >Subject: whale questions
    >Date: Tue, Dec 2, 2003, 12:59 PM

    > Hi,
    > Many thanks in advance for answering our many whale questions.
    > From John Fr.: Why do orcas have such big dorsal fins?

    EH: I assume you mean the males: It may be a sexual characteristic which
    plays a part when females are attracted by or select males for mating - like
    the fancy plumage of male birds or the songs of the (male) humpback whale.
    But no one knows for sure. Some whales get by without any dorsal fins...eg
    right whales.
    > From Michael and Sam: What is your favorite species of whale and why?
    EH: Orcas: I love the big families; their quick and dramatic and their
    behavior has a lot of variation.

    > From Zoe and Jaclyn: Have you ever been knocked out by a whale or any
    > other sea creature and if so what was it like? Why do you like living in
    > Scotland? What kind of work do you do with the Japanese and Russian
    > scientists? What species of whales do you study?
    EH: Never been knocked by any sea creature - once by car, though; they're
    far more dangerous than anything in the sea.
    EH: I love Scotland for the cool fresh climate - it never gets too hot here;
    and I love the castles and the islands, the sea and the craggy coast:
    history plus nature.
    EH: With the Japanese and Russian researchers, I work on a project to study
    orcas around eastern Russia - the first study of its kind off Russia.

    > From Julia and Stacy: Why are orcas called orcas? Why do orcas hunt whales
    > that are bigger than them? How deep can an orca dive? How long can an orca
    > hold its breath? What does it feel like to be bitten by an orca? When did
    > you first get interested in whales? How much does an orca weigh? Why are
    > orcas black and white? How high can they jump out of the water?
    EH: I think orca originally meant just 'a kind of whale' (in the Roman era)
    EH: the record is 3,375 feet (one caught in submarine cable off Vancouver
    Island years ago), but normally they stay in the top 100-200 feet
    EH: Up to about 20 minutes, but normally they hold their breath only 4-6
    mins before coming up for air and spouting
    EH: I imagine it would be extremely painful. You would probably lose
    consciousness very quickly...
    EH: FIrst got interested in whales in 1973 on a sailboat expedition to film
    orcas in the wild.
    EH: Up to about 9 tonnes for the largest males, but normally more like half
    EH: The coloring could have evolved partly as camouflage against their prey.
    As they are light on the bottom, they can't be seen so well from below. And
    if the prey is on top of them, they only see black, the same color as the
    sea depths.
    EH: I've seen them jump clear of the water with perhaps up to 5-6 feet above
    the surface. I think the young agile ones could probably beat this
    sometimes. Spinner dolphins and some of the other more lithe dolphins can go
    even higher. It's difficult to measure as you can imagine...

    > From Jackie: What is the most common species of whale in Scotland?
    EH: The minke whale which is the smallest of the baleen (without teeth)
    whales, up to only about 35 feet long.
    > From Traylor and Ben: How many books have you written and what are they
    > mostly about? What is the most vicious whale that you have seen? How long
    > have you been interested in whales?
    EH: I have written 15 books, 13 published, 2 more coming out next year.
    About 2/3 are on whales and dolphins and the others are on adventures and
    experiences I've had working with ants in the rainforest and other
    things...ck. amazon.com for a full list, or go to

    EH: I don't think I've encountered a vicious whale at all...I did once find
    people on a boat shooting at orcas for target practice. THAT was vicious.
    EH: I've been interested in whales for 30 years now...

    > Sue Shirley
    > Dedham Country Day School
    > Dedham, MA
    > US

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