Subject: Re: Cetacean age and touching whales

Lori Mazzuca (lorim@soest.hawaii.edu)
Sun, 4 May 1997 17:23:12 -1000 (HST)

Dear Ariana (and Art :) )
	Thank you for your questions regarding how old whales live to be
and where can you go to touch a whale.  To answer your first question on
their age......that may not be so simple.  I should first give you a basic
breakdown of whales and dolphins--then about ages.  
	All of the whales and dolphins belong to the order of Cetacea.
Cetaceans branch into 2 suborders---
1) Odontocete whales:  those having teeth and 1 blowhole -- like dolphins,
killer whales, sperm whales, etc.
2) Mysicete whales:  those having no teeth but rather a substance known as
"baleen" -- a fine fiber used to strain or filter their food from
the water and 2 blowholes or nares on top of their head.
	Some of the odontocetes, like bottlenose dolpins (flipper), are
known to live to 50 years. Some of the mysticete whales, like the humpback
whale, are known to live about the same.  The oldest humpback on record
from whale catch data was 48 years old. However, since these animals spend
the better part of their lives beneath the surface, and since humans
nearly whaled all of the great whales (or mysticete/baleen whales) to near
extinctin at the turn of the century, it is possible we have not studied
them alive long enough to know how long they might live if we let them.
In the February or March 1996 issue of National Geographic, there was an
article about a Bowhead whale (a baleen/mysticete whale) that had been
killed by the Eskimos that year who had a spear tip found in its blubber
layer.  With the advent of more sophisticated technology to whale, this
type of spear had not been used for over 100 years.  They believe the
animal had been speared as a juvenile, not killed at the time, and the
spear tip became a part of its body.  They estimate the animals age to be
between 100-130 years of age!  Interesting, but not scientifically proven.  

In regard to your second question on where to touch a whale, If you would 
like to touch a mysticete whale (great/baleen whale), I know you
can take a trip to Mexico (Baja) where the Gray whales breed and if you're
lucky one will come up for you to pet it.  To touch an odontocete species
like a dolphin or killer whale, you could do that at most marine parks
where the animals are held captive. Although many dolphins are playful and
often approach humans in boats, etc., I would not recommend attempting
to touch them in the wild.

I hope the information that I have given you helps out.  Good luck!

Sincrely, 
Lori Mazzuca

On Mon, 5 May 1997, Art Mann wrote:

> Lori,
> 
> These questions are from my 6 year old daughter who is working on a whales 
> presentation for her school.  At her school (University Cooperative School in 
> Seattle, Washington) they call these presentations "Great Brains".
> 
> Her name is Ariana, and her questions are
> 
> 	How old can whales get?
> 
> 	Is there some place where she and other children could go to actually touch a 
> 	whale?
> 
> Thanks,
> 
> Art Mann for Ariana Mann
>