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
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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!
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.
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