Subject: Re: WHALES

Tom Ford (
Thu, 5 Dec 96 21:32:49 -0500

>I love Whales! Could you tell me why whales always know where they are
>going,and why they stay together all the time?
>       Sincerely, Brennen Noble
Dear Brennen,

    Whales ,stay together most of the time because they communicate. The 
two types of whales communicate differently. Toothed whales use high 
frequency sound and baleen whales use much lower frequency sounds. 
    Toothed whales, odontocetes, live all of their lives in extended 
family groups or pods. Pods are matricentric (centered on an older female 
called a matriarch) and are stable over very long periods of time. Pods 
of odontocetes  share a common set of calls and identifying "names". They 
call to each other while hunting or travelling. Toothed whale pods may 
spread out over a few miles at any one time.

    Baleen whales use low frequency sounds. They do not travel in succint 
pods but in large and diverse herds. Social structure is much harder to 
discern in baleen whales but many of the known relationships are also 
matricentric. These whales also communicate but over much longer 
distances because the lower sounds they use can travel much longer than 
the high sounds of toothed whales. These whale groups can spread out over 
a huge area many miles across. Dr. Roger payne has suggested that some 
baleen whale species (finbacks and blue whales) can communicate over 
entire ocean basins. 

    Whales do indeed seem to know where they are when migrating. This may 
be due to the long term stability of pods. Information about travel 
routes and 'landmarks"  may be learned by younger pod members from the 
older animals. 

                                                            Dr. Tom Ford