Subject: Re: whales

Greg Early (
Thu, 22 Oct 1998 16:01:21 -0400

At 05:38 AM 10/19/98 -0400, you wrote:
>Below are some questions from half of my fifth grade science class. 
>They are eagerly looking forward to your answers. 

Ms. Shirley and class,

Sorry this has taken a while.  You all can think them up faster than I can
come up with an answer.  Anyway here goes :

>From Ariana and Danielle: What is the most important part of your job
>then working with the whales?  Please describe what it is like when you
>rescue a whale. 

Ariana and Danielle:

First what is it like to rescue a whale.  Most of the time this means
either bringing an animal back to the Aquarium to see what we can do for
it.  Or, if it is not too sick or injured, doing what we can for it on the
beach and getting it back into the water.  If an animal is coming to the
Aquarium we need a pool big enough and a way to transport it.  Obviously
this means we can only do this with dolphins and small whales (and when we
have a pool that will work).  The largest whales I have worked with in a
pool were young pilot whales (about 12 feet long and about 1200 pounds).
Unfortunately bigger whales also do not often survive once they are up on
shore.  Once a whale is here it takes many people and many hours of work to
care for and treat the whales.  Just moving the small pilot whales for a
blood sample took over ten people and a crane.  The pool we used for this
is outside, and most of our whale strandings happen in the winter so what
it is mostly like to rescue whales is wet and cold, and cold and wet, and
then there are days when it is really wet and cold.  It is really great
when they do well and you can let them go again, and it really stinks when
they do not do well, or you can not do anything to help them.

The most important part of the job I guess is to make sure we are doing the
right things for the animals so we can take the best care of them.  A close
second is to be sure that people do not get hurt in the process.

>From Alicia and Caroline: What whale can hold their breath for the
>shortest amount of time?

 Alicia and Caroline:  Usually people want to know about what whale holds
its breath the longest.  I would have to guess on this one, but of the
large whales (the baleen guys) I would think either the right whale or gray
whale.  My bet would be the right whale.  
>From Amar and Alex L. : How many types of whales are endangered? 

> Amar and Alex L:  Most of the large whales (baleen whales and sperm
whale) are considered endangered by the U.S. government.  Only the gray
whale and minke whale are not.  The most endangered large whale (and one
that has not recovered well) is the North Atlantic Right Whale.  These guys
have been voted "most likely whale to go extinct" by most scientists.

>From Andrew and Carlos: Do you have any artifacts or bones that show
>whales once walked on land?

 Andrew and Carlos:

I do not have a collection of bones (and neither does the Aquarium).  But,
in all whale and dolphin skeletons you can see small bones where a land
mammals hips and legs would be.  There are also fossil skeletons of whale
like animals that have little legs.  One of them is the Basilosaurus.  It's
name means "King Lizard" which it got because scientists that first
discovered it thought it was a reptile and not a mammal.  As it turned out
it was probably an ancient relative of modern whales, and it had legs. 
>From Molly and Rebekah: Is a whale-shark a whale or a shark?  Why is it
>called that?

 Molly and Rebekah:

A whale shark is actually a shark.  It is called a "whale shark" because it
is the largest shark, and I suspect to some people it looked a little bit
like a whale.
>Kevin and Sam: In the picture of you looking at the humpback whale what
>is the hole in the whale next to its fluke?
Kevin and Sam:

That?  That is the reproductive slit of the whale.  All of a whales
reproductive organs are tucked inside their bodies so they are more
streamlined.  You can tell males from females by the shape and location of
those slits. (That whale was female).
>From Mrs Shirley's 5th grade science class in Dedham, MA 

Thanks for the interest and those were some pretty good (and some hard)

Greg Early
Edgerton Research Laboratory				
New England Aquarium
Central Wharf
Boston, Mass 02110
617-973-5246 (phone)
617-723-6207 (FAX)