Subject: whale questions

Al Romero (
Wed, 03 Feb 1999 07:26:40 -0600

At 07:12 PM 2/2/99 -0500, you wrote:
>Greetings!  We are writing you from Harrison Hill Elementary school in Fort
>Wayne, Indiana!!  We have been working on  a Whale Unit in my first - grade
>classroom for 2 weeks.  Over this period, we have generated many questions
>about whales that we would like to ask you.  . . 

The answers for these questions can be found in the "How to Find" link of
the WhaleNet page where you found me, but here are some quick answers:

>Austin, Kayla, and Steven B. want to know how (and how long) whales can hold
>their breath.  We also wonder how they see and talk under water.  

Whales just hold their breath like any other mammals and they can it do for
up to several minutes. Sperm whales seem to be the best at that with
divings reported to be up to 90 minutes. They see just like any other
mammal using their eyes and produce sounds that can be used in many
occasions for communication purposes.

>Statton and Sierra :  How do whales make those sounds?

Sounds are produced internally.  In the case of the toothed whales, they
use the head fat organ (melon) to focus these sounds into a directional
beam usually used for echolocation.

>Abby, Jasmine, and Dominique:  How do whales fight sharks?  How can whales
>hear under water for 100 miles?

Whales do not "fight" sharks in the human sense. They may defend against
them. How is that interaction? we know very little about that since it is a
behavior rarely observed. We do know that it may not be infrequent since
individuals some species show many times scars from shark bites,
particularly the cookie-cutter shark.

>Alyssa, Chris, Nicole:  How do whales play?  

Just like many other mammal. Play behavior is a form learning, of
practicing certain types of behavior that they will apply once become
adults so they imitate aggressive/defensive manoeuvres.  It is believed
that some of the "aerial" behavior (breaching, spinning, etc.) may be a
form of play behavior.

>Breanna, Matthew, and Joshua:  How do they blow the spout from their
>Where does the water for the spout come from?

They do not spout water. What happens is that when their surface and
expelled the air from their lungs, that air contains water vapor which is
at a higher temperate than the one in the environment; thus, condensation
occurs and it looks like they are spouting water, a common misconception.

>Stephen, Sha'Cole and Brooke:  How do whales get by icebergs?  

I am not sure I understand the question, but they can detect icebergs
either visually or by echolocation and avoid them.

>We know you are very busy, but we would love it if you could write us back
>answer a few of these questions.  We also want to know what your
occupation is
>and how you know so much about whales.  

I am a professional biologist who studies and teaches about whales and,
believe me, like most of us know very little about them for the simple
reason that we all know very little about these creatures.

We LOVE whales!  We just adopted a
>humpback named Littlespot.  We are excited to see his pictures.  Thank you
>your time!


>Mrs. Day's First Grade Class
>Respond to:
>Cortney Day  
>Harrison Hill Academy / grade 1

Aldemaro Romero, Ph.D.
Director and Associate Professor
Environmental Studies Program
Macalester College
1600 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105-1899
(651) 696-8157
(651) 696-6443 (fax)