Subject: Breaching whales

Tori (cullins@hawaii.edu)
Mon, 19 May 1997 15:49:26 -1000

#1. It is not known why whales breach. The popular theory used to be they
were knocking off the barnacles that accumulate on them throughout their
lifes. I don't like this one too much. I think it is more likely that they
are displaying a territory protecting behavior or trying to attract a
females attention. The loud sound caused by their bodies hitting the water
could scare off other males coming into their territory if the whale is a
male. Also if a male, he may be showing some female how large and
aggressive he is and prove to a female that he is good material for a mate.
If a female is breaching she may be telling the male that she does not
think he is worthy of her time at all! Go away! I have seen babies
breaching repeatedly with their mothers either nearby or breaching along
with them. In Hawai'i these calfs (whale babies) are recently born, so I
doubt they have any barnacles on them. I think your hypothesis about if
the whales do it for fun or "because they can" as I put it is also very
true. Good thinking Matt and Matt!

#2. When calfs are newborn, it is common for the mother (cow) to gently
help her calf up to the surface of the water. She may give the calf a ride
on her nose or back. Why does she do this? Because whales are mammals
(question #5) and like all mammals, they need to breath air. I would
suppose that the number of times a mother needs to do this, if they need
to do it all, would differ with each calf. Some calfs may do this by
extinct, while others may need help for a few hours. Of course we're
talking about survival here. Mothers will continue to give their calves
rides and be in close physical contact with them for a long time, probably
until they are weaned (about a year or two). 

#3. A humpback whale can eat a TON of krill a day. Does that mean that
they eat 365 tons a year. Raise your right hand if you think yes. If your
hand went up you are good at math, but you need some more information
about humpbacks! Humpback whales feed in the higher latitude part of
oceans in the summer where there is plenty for them to eat. In the winter,
they migrate to lower latitude, warmer areas to breed, give birth to their
calves, and rest. Guess what, when in the lower latitudes they hardly ever
eat at all! Nor do they eat much at all when migrating! That is why they
eat so much in the summer, so they can store up lots of blubber (fat) to
last them through the winter months. However some humpbacks don't leave
their winter grounds in the summer and so may eat there all year long if
they wanted to. If they do or not I do not know. Maybe you two Matt's can
research this one. I know someone who may know, if you want her email
address, write back and let me know, and then let me know the answer,
because now I am curious!

#4. Could a person survive on krill? Probably, but would they want to?
Krill are planktonic organisms and so are very low on the food chain. This
means they are high in energy for their small size and so are very good
for you. Like vegetables or grains, but they are animal protein, so not
for vegetarians. I guess a vegetarian could not survive on krill. A person
may also not be in the best of health if surviving on krill as they may be
lacking some vitamins or minerals not included in their krill diet. How
long do think you would be happy on a krill diet? 

#5. OK, you already know that whales are mammals and not fish. Can you say
Cetaceans? Sa-tay-shun, now you can impress your classmates by telling them
the family that all whales belong to, besides being mammals. Mammals give
birth to live young (as compared to laying eggs), nurse their offspring
and have hair. Uh-oh, where is the whales hair? Go back to the ASK webpage
and look at Lori Mazucca's answer for this one. C'mon now ALL scientists
do research. Here's another tip, whales and other marine MAMMALS swim by
moving their tails up and down. Fish swim by moving their tails
side-to-side. Think about it.

OK, you two Matt's. Your on the right track to becoming scientists, don't
stop now! Thanks for your questions. Looking forward to hearing from you
again!

Tori

PS. Please forgive that I spelled calfs and calves. I changed my mind half
way through and didn't want to erase everything to go back and change it.
Calves is the better way to write the word. C-ya.