student questions about blue whales

From: Tom Ford (
Date: Fri Mar 18 2005 - 00:53:19 EST

  • Next message: Tom Ford: "questions about blue whales"

    Dear Class of future Scientists in Crystal Lake,

    Thank you very much for the opportunity to answer your questions.
    It is my privilege to answer them.
    Good science is created by good questions and I see that you have many good
    Many , many, many good questions

    Ready ?

    (1) Marissa and Payton,
    I know that the blue whale is the biggest animal that ever there was because
    nobody has ever found a bigger one. Archeologists have never found a bigger
    dinosaur and all the millions of sailors in history have never seen a bigger
    animal. can you imagine overlooking an animal longer than two and a half
    school busses ? There are plants that are bigger but no other animals are

    (2) Carter and Alicia,

    The reason that some whales have teeth and some do not is answered by
    looking at what they eat. Toothed whales eat fish, squid and like killer
    whales other animals. They chase what they eat.
    Baleen whales eat huge amounts of smaller things. Humpback whales eat lots
    of small fish. Right whales and blue whales eat thick clouds of plankton.
    Plankton are very small animals that do not move quickly. toothed whales
    have to chase what they eat. baleen whales just swim through big swarms of
    food. A wolf has very good teeth and hunts very well with those teeth. A cow
    has very different teeth because it grazes on things it does not have to
    chase. as a general rule toothed whales hunt and baleen whales graze.

    (3) Tyler,

    Most whale studies on live whales are done by watching what the animals are
    doing. This can be done by going out to sea on boats or by watching with
    telescopes from the land.
    Here in New England we can go out nearly every day to see humpback, finback
    and minke whales and several types of toothed whales and dolphins. In Hawaii
    and Argentina excellent studies have been done from high up on cliffs with
    binoculars and telescopes to see what the whales are doing. It is possible
    with photographs over several years to learn quite a bit about whale social
    structure and behavior. each whale has a distinctive mark or tail pattern so
    with a lot of time you can catalog and identify whole families of whales and
    dolphins. Dr. Roger Payne has studied right whales in Patagonia for 33 years
    from both cliff tops and very small boats.

    It can be hard to understand many things about whales because they are
    underwater more than 90% of the time. So it can take a long time to really
    be sure about what you are seeing.
    So the short answer is , you can study whales by watching them and
    photographing them , over a long period of time. It is also possible to
    study captive whales in aquariums but that does not tell you much about how
    they behave in natural conditions.

    (4) Kacie,

    Blue whales are the loudest animals on earth because we can hear and record
    them on underwater microphones called hydrophones. Blue whales are the
    loudest because they are the biggest. do a search here on Whalenet for Dr.
    Chris Clark. He knows quite a bit about whale sounds.
    If you wish to be a scientist you must study many areas. A good scientist
    keeps an open mind and considers many things when studying anything.
    Sometimes you can only discover something about a whale after watching it
    for a long time, and then suddenly you will notice something that you never
    saw before. That is a most exciting moment . You can spontaneously
    understand a behavior or anatomical characteristic that makes a big
    difference in understanding what an animal is all about. It takes
    dedication and work but it is a thrill when you have an AHAH!!! moment.

    (5) Amanda,

    For many years scientists thought that whales could only breath in areas
    where there were cracks in the ice. Back in the 1970's a study was made
    about the bowhead whales in the arctic
    and that study was not correct. It under counted the bowheads because
    scientists did not know that bowheads can breathe by making holes in solid
    ice. The eskimos knew but scientists found that hard to believe. By adding
    a study of the sounds whales mak to the photographs and visual count of
    whales a much more accurate estimate of the bowhead population could be

    The Inupiat eskimos have been studying bowhead whales for thousands of years
    and they knew that bowheads can break through 3 feet of solid ice , take a
    breath and swim on totally unseen. I have had the experience in Alaska of
    being two miles out from shore with nothing but solid ice in view and heard
    a whale breathing. Bowhead whales have extra thick skin around the blowhole
    and use that to bang up through the ice to breathe.

    (6) Baylen , Christina and Alanna,

    It can be cool physically when you study whales in Alaska. It is
    intellectually very cool when you discover something new about whales. I
    like being a whale scientist because there are so many neat things about
    whales that we have not yet learned. Studying whales gets me out of doors in
    interesting places. For me, nothing is better than noticing something new
    and different about whales and dolphins.

    (7) Maggie,

    Blue whales are really a very light shade of bluish gray. Blue whales have
    white undersides and are blue on top. Search here on Whalenet for pictures
    of blue whales.

    (8) Mary K. , Dan and Michael ,

    Blue whales have two blowholes for the same reason you have two nostrils in
    your nose. The blowhole is the nose of the blue whale but it is located on
    the top of the head. that way the whale does not have to lift its head out
    of the water to breath. they can just swim along flat in the ocean and
    breathe quite easily.

    (9) Jeremy and Mary W.

    Blue whale eat such tiny creatures because there a lots of them. Krill occur
    in huge swarms. they literally form clouds of food. By eating millions of
    tiny animals blue whales can get all the nutrition they need. Krill cannot
    swim very quickly when they are all bunched together and that makes it easy
    for blue whales to graze on them.

    (10) Bowen,

    Whales can be aged in many ways. Baleen whales have growth layers in their
    earbones . Baleen whales also have annual layers of wax in their ears.
    The coolest way of aging whales comes from the science of chemistry. there
    is a substance called aspartic acid. It is an amino acid. Living animals use
    only left handed aspartic acid in the proteins they make. However , with
    time aspartic acid changes from a left handed molecule to a right handed
    form. That happens at a set rate. By analyzing the amounts of left handed
    versus right handed amino acids like aspartic acid you can tell how old that
    whale is. recent studies of bowhead whale eyes has shown us that bowhead
    whales can live about two hundred years. Search Whalenet for aspartic acid
    and see all about it.
    Toothed whales have growth layers inside their teeth. It isalso possible to
    age female whales by counting the number of times they ovulate.

    (11) Madison

    I have never been bitten by a shark and I fondly hope never to be bitten by
    a shark. I have however been bitten by a dog. Man's best friend indeed .

    (12) Danny and Mia,

    Female whales are bigger than males because they have babies. A mother whale
    has to provide all the nutrition a developing baby needs. When the baby
    weighs 6 tons or more that is a lot of weight. Baleen whale females are
    always bigger than males. Some species of toothed whales have males that
    are bigger than females. Sperm whales and killer whales are two toothed
    whale types that have that body size difference.

    (13) Erin and Stephanie,

    Blue whales swim much faster and longer than people. The best Olympic
    swimming speed was for a 50 meter sprint. The gold medal winner swam at 2.3
    meters per second. A blue whale swims casually at 2.6 meters a second for
    hundreds of kilometers. Blue whales can move more quickly for short
    distances when they need to.

    (14) Megan,

    Yes whales can severely injure their dorsal fins. They do not break them
    because there are no bones in dorsal fins. Dorsal fins are composed of skin
    and connective tissue . Whales can break flippers because they have bones
    just like the bones in your hand

    (15) Brittany ,

    The blue whale got its name because it really is blue.

    (16) Max and Lindsey ,

    Dr, Michael Moore has done a wonderful study of whale blubber. He has
    adapted an acoustic transducer to directly measure blubber thicknesses on
    live whales. Please see; http://
    Whales can indeed run quite low on blubber when they are ill or when food
    resources are scant. Northern right whales here in new England have had some
    years when the females were not able to have babies because they could not
    store up enough blubber .

    Well class you have put me through my paces. I do hope that my answers were
    good enough for eager minds like yours. Please keep asking good questions
    like the ones you submitted. If you have more questions send them on to
    Whalenet. If I am not here , there are several other scientists quite
    willing to help you.

    Dr. Tom ford

    From: CIndy Rubin <
    Date: Wed, 16 Mar 2005 22:18:50 -0600
    Subject: student questions about blue whales

    Dear Dr. Ford,
    I am a 1st and 2nd grade multi-age teacher in Crystal Lake, Illinois. We are
    studying oceans and ocean life at this time. My students have been
    fascinated by the underwater world and are constantly asking questions
    throughout their studies. I have always believed that children should not
    feel intimidated to ask questions and be encouraged to do so throughout
    their lives. During the course of our studies, we came across a wonderful
    book called Big Blue Whale (non-fiction) and a delightful fictional story
    called Dear Mr. Blueberry. The fictional story relates letters from a little
    girl to her teacher asking questions about the big blue whale she believes
    is living in her pond. Her teacher kindly writes back gently explaining the
    impossibilities of a big blue whale living in a fresh water pond. The little
    girl in the story continually asks questions and gets responses back from
    her teacher. My students have had many questions as well, about big blue
    whales, scientists and general whale questions. I had my students write a
    letter to you, a scientist, and would truly appreciate your response to
    their questions. For your convenience I have condensed the questions
    (believe it or not). My students would be thrilled and honored to have their
    questions answered by a real scientist.
    Thank you for your time and commitment to educating our future scientists!
    Cindy Rubin

    Here we go...

    Marissa and Payton ask: How do you know blue whales are the biggest
    creatures on earth?

    Carter and Alicia ask: How come some whales are toothed and some are

    Tyler asks: How do you see the whales to study them?

    Kacie asks: Why are blue whales the loudest animals on earth and how do you
    know they are? She also mentioned in her letter that
                      she wants to be a scientist when she grows up.

    Amanda asks: How do whales come up for air when traveling through icy

    Baylen, Christina and Alanna ask: Is it cool to study the ocean and sea
    life? Do you like being a scientist?

    Maggie asks: Why are blue whales called blue whales when they are gray and

    Mary K. , Dan and Michael ask: Why do blue whales have two blowholes?

    Jeremy and Mary W. ask: Why do blue whales eat so many tiny creatures, like
    krill, when they are so big?

    Bowen asks: How do you know how old a whale is?

    Madison asks: Have you ever been bitten by a shark?

    Danny and Mia ask: Why are female whales bigger than male whales?

    Erin and Stephanie ask: How fast do blue whales swim?

    Megan asks: Can whales break their dorsal fin? and Do whales camouflage for

    Brittany asks: How did the blue whale get its name?

    Last but not least... Max and Lindsey ask: How do you know how much blubber
    a whale has and can they run out of it?

    Thank you so much for your time and dedication to the children. I am going
    to put their letters to you in a class book and your responses attached to
    the book. If you individualize their questions I will copy your answers and
    staple them to their letter to you. The entire class will be able to benefit
    from the individual questions answered.
    Cindy Rubin

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