Subject: Questions from my second graders (whales and sharks)

Robert Kenney (
Tue, 8 Dec 1998 17:59:11 -0500

At 11:42 12/8/98 -0600, you wrote:
>Dear Mr. kenney,
>	My class is learning about whales.  We saw your website and they
>immediately wanted to mail you.  Drew wants to know if whales are
>threatened at all by sharks.  Can sharks hurt the whales?
>Please let us know.
>Thank you!
>Julie Hammers
First  - Mr. Kenney was my father's name; I'm Dr. Bob.

The answer to your question is - it depends on what you mean by "whales."
Large whales like blue, fin, humpback, and sperm whales are probably big
enough that they don't have to worry much about being attacked by a shark.
We do see dead whales sometimes with lots of shark bites, but most likely
the sharks were just feeding on a whale that was already dead.  Back during
the old Yankee whaling days, sharks biting pieces off the whales that the
whalers were cutting up were a real nuisance, not to mention dangerous if
one of the sailors fell in the water.

A baby whale (called a calf) might be small enough for a shark to attack if
the mother wasn't there to protect it.  We don't really see shark attacks on
whale calves, but maybe that's because over thousands of years whales have
adapted to have their calves in places where there aren't a lot of sharks.
On the other hand, a dolphin is really just a small kind of whale, and they
are small enough to be sometimes attacked by sharks.  Scientists have seen
dolphins with shark bites at times, so I guess there are whales that are
threatened by sharks.

Dr. Bob

 | Robert D. Kenney, Ph.D.              |
 | University of Rhode Island                                        |
 | Graduate School of Oceanography                                   |
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