Subject: Whales: some general questions

Dr. Cathy Schaeff (
Tue, 24 Nov 1998 23:36:44 +0000

Hi Sue,

I've ansewred the questions you sent (below).  You might also want to
search the ASK database for other interesting tidbits.

Sue Shirley wrote:
> Dr. Schaeff,
> The following questions are from my 5th grade scientists.  Thank you in
> advance for you answers.
> >From Kayla and Ashley:  What are the most interesting things that you
> have learned about whales from your research?

One of the interesting things I learned was that right whales in the
North Atlantic ocean use a feeding ground that we haven't found yet.
> >From Sarah and Kristie: Where do you do your research?

I do my research in my lab in Washington DC and also on the ocean (North
Atlantic right whales, waters off Lubec Maine; southern right whales,
waters off South Africa;  whales, waters off Mexico).
> >From Jay and Steven: How long does it take for a gray whale to produce
> a baby?  How many do they have at once?

It takes about a year to produce a gray whale.  Females produce one at a
> >From Micah, Adam and Chris: How do you get the DNA samples from a whale?

I get the DNA from small pieces of skin that we collect from the whales
(about the size of the fingernail on your baby finger).
> >From Jacqueline and Alexandra: Are whales still when you get the DNA
> samples?  If not, how do they behave?

We actually collect the samples using arrows so that we don't have to
get too close to the animals (that would upset them).  They mostly don't
seem too upset by our taking a small piece of skin but sometime they
slap the water with their tails.  The moms usually get more upset when
we do their babies then when we sample the moms themselves.

> Sue Shirley
> Dedham Country Day School
> Dedham, MA

Cathy Schaeff, Ph.D.
Biology Department,
American University,
4400 Mass. Ave. NW,
Washington DC 20016.

(202) 885-2175 (phone)
(202) 885-2182 (fax) (email)