Subject: Re: Blue Whale adaptation

Robert Kenney (
Tue, 11 Nov 1997 18:55:11 -0500 (EST)

On Mon, 10 Nov 1997 wrote:

> Dr. Kenney,
> My name is Jeffrey Smith, I am 9 years old and I am writing a book report on
> the Blue Whale.  One of the facts of the blue whale I am asked to write about
> is the Blue Whales' adaptation.
> Could you e-mail me a short note on what the Blue Whales' adapation is?
Dear Jeffrey:

A list of all of the blue whale's adaptations would fill a book.  I can
tell from your question that you don't really understand what adaptation
means.  Don't feel bad about that - it's a complicated topic for a
nine-year-old kid.  I know college students who have trouble with it.

An adaptation is anything about an animal (or a plant, or anything else
alive) that helps it to survive in its environment.  So anything you can
think of about a blue whale could be an adaptation, even if scientists
can't explain yet what it does.

Let's think about an example.  The next time you brush your teeth, take a
close look in the mirror at the different kinds of teeth you have.  People
have teeth in front with straight sharp edges for biting, pointier teeth
on the sides for tearing, and flat teeth in the back for grinding.  Our
teeth are an adaptation for a diet that mixes lots of different kinds of
food.  We are omnivores, which means "everything eaters" (except for some
people, especially 9-year-olds, everything doesn't include broccoli and
carrots).  Now if you have a dog or cat, look at their teeth. They have
four very long sharp teeth - an adaptation for killing smaller animals.
Their back teeth have sharp edges and work like scissors for slicing meat.
Dogs and cats are adapted to be carnivores - meat eaters. An animal like a
cow or horse is adapted to eat grass - their back teeth are really big
grinders, because grass is hard to digest and needs to be chewed up very
fine to get the good stuff out of it.

So back to the blue whale - it has lots of adaptations, not just one.
I'll leave it up to you to think about most of them.  Every time you read
something about a blue whale, ask yourself "How does this help a blue
whale survive?"  But I'll start you off with a couple of adaptations.
What is different about where you live and where a blue whale lives?  The
most obvious difference is it lives in the ocean.  How good a swimmer are
you?  What is there about a blue whale that makes it a better swimmer than
you are?  Here are a few things:  
	It's body is long and tapered so it slides through the water easy.
	It has almost no hair, which makes it slippery.
	It doesn't have parts sticking out all over its body that would
make it less streamlined, like ears, or back legs, or a nose, or nipples.
	It has a huge flattened tail to swim with.
	It has a dorsal fin sticking up on its back to help keep it from
rolling over.
	It can hold its breath a lot longer than you can.

Dr. Bob

* Robert D. Kenney, Ph.D.         *
* University of Rhode Island                      Tel:  (401) 792-6664 *
* Graduate School of Oceanography                 Fax:  (401) 792-6497 *
* Box 41, Bay Campus                                                   *
* Narragansett, RI, USA  02882-1197                                    *