Subject: Re: whales

Robert Kenney (
Thu, 13 Nov 97 11:27:13 EST

At 03:36 11/13/97 -0500, you wrote:
>These questions are from my fifth grade science students who have been
>studying whales since September.  They are anxious to hear from you! 
>Thank you very much for your time.  
>Sue Shirley 
>Dedham Country Day School 
>Dedham, MA 
>>From Maddy, Natalie, and Kaitlinn:  Whould you 

I think your question got cut short.

>>From Sean, Mike, Heather and Carry: Why do Right whales float when they

Here's an experiment to try.  The next time your mother is going to cook
some kind of meat for dinner, ask her for a small piece of fat, a small
piece of meat (really muscle) with no fat, and a piece of bone.  Put all
three in a pan of water.  The bone and meat should sink, and the fat should
float.  So the relative amounts of bone, muscle, and fat in an animal will
determine whether it floats or sinks.  Right whales are tubbos. 

>How many molecules are there in a Right whale?  

A lot.  Just a rough estimate, but something like a one followed by 26 or 27

>How much does the average Right whale weigh?  

Our best guess is around 40,000 kilograms, or about 88,000 pounds, or about
the same as 1,100 80-pound kids.

>How many Right whales are left in the world?

A rough estimate is around 5,000, with most of them in the Southern Hemisphere.

>>From Reggie and Neil:  Could a whale be born without a dorsal fin?  

Some species of whales don't have dorsal fins, like right whales, bowhead
whales, and finless porpoises.  For the other species, it would be possible
for a whale that is supposed to have a dorsal fin to be born without one
(sometimes people are born missing parts like arms or eyes), but I've never
seen one.

>How fast can a Right whale swim?  

Probably about ten miles per hour, maybe a little faster if it's scared.

>How many times does a Right whales heart beat in a minute?

I don't know specifically for a right whale, but the bigger an animal is,
the slower its heart normally beats.  Whale heart rates are usually around
10 to 30 beats per minute.

>>From Michael K.:  When you were in the Navy tracking submarines did
>whales come up on sonar?

Sometimes.  I remember once in Iceland hearing a humpback whale singing very
loudly near our hydrophone.

>>From Anna and Danielle:  How do dolphins know who their family is?  

They maybe recognize each other by how they look and what they sound like.
In bottlenose dolphins, each one has a special whistle called a "signature
whistle" that is different from everyone else's.

>Do one species of dolphins mate with another species of dolphins?

Sometimes in aquariums different species of dolphins will mate.  It might
happen in the wild, also.  Wild hybrids of blue and fin whales have also
been found in the wild.  When that sort of thing happens, that means that
the species must be close relatives.

>>From David:  What was the first dolphin ever discovered?

Probably a dead dolphin on a beach that was found by a prehistoric human (a
"caveman") many thousands of years ago.

>>From Kaitlinn:  What was the first whale to exist on Earth?

Nobody knows for sure.  And that's really not possible to answer.  If you
start with a land animal that looks like a small wolf with hooves on its
toes and gradually change it over millions of years into the kinds of whales
we see today - even if you know what every little step along the way was,
how do you decide where to draw the line between an animal you call a whale
and something a tiny bit different that you call something else?

>>From Torie and Liz:  Why do whales breach?  

Nobody knows for sure, but we have lots of guesses.  The one that sounds
best to me is that it's a way to make a very loud noise as a signal.

>Why are most whales so shy?

For the same reason that almost all wild animals are shy - it keeps them out
of danger from predators or anything else they aren't sure about.

>>From Justin and Bobby:  Was the design of submarines influenced by
>whales in any way?

Absolutely.  Just look at the shape of a modern fast submarine and the shape
of a whale (or dolphin or shark or fast fish like a tuna).

>>From Adam, Rob, Eric:  What is the biggest turtle species living in the

Leatherback turtle - the biggest one ever caught was in Wales, and it
weighed over two thousand pounds.

>>From Toby and Sam:  Do whales use their flukes as sails?

I have never seen it, but I've read that right whales near Argentina do it.

>>From Nina and Melissa:  How long does it take to train an average

I don't know.  Sounds like a good question to ask a trainer the next time
you visit an aquarium.

Dr. Bob

 | Robert D. Kenney, Ph.D.      |
 | University of Rhode Island          ('gsosunONE' not 'gsosunELL') |
 | Graduate School of Oceanography                                   |
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