Subject: Re: Whale Research Project for a Sophomore High School Student

Kim Marshall (
Mon, 10 May 1999 15:51:45 -0400 (EDT)

Hello Brian, I have completed your questions to the best of my knowledge.
Good luck on your project! Kim

>Hello - My name is Brian Rundblad and I am a Sophomore at Maine South High
>School in Park Ridge, IL.  For my final project in Physical Science I am
>researching the behaviors of Whales.
>1.  What are some of the special behaviors unique to the southern right
>whales?  Southern right whales off South Africa and Argentina spend a lot
>of time during their breeding/calving season very near the shorelines
>especially when they have calves.  They move slowly and calmly back and
>forth along the shore sometimes so close (at high tide) that you can watch
>their eyes.  It is very easy to observe these whales because they spend so
>much time close to shorelines and cliffsides, easier than it is to study
>the N. right whales.

>2.  Are these whales found anywhere else in the world?
Southern right can be found off S. Africa, Argentina (Brasil) and New
Zealand.  The larger concentrations are seen of S. Africa and Argentina.
It is believed that although these seprate groups do not generally mix for
breeding purposes they might mix to feed around the Antarctic area and off
of South Georgia where they exclusively feed on copepods.
>3.  What was/is the neatest reasearch that you have conducted?
In observing the behavior of right whales or to monitor their health it is
sometimes better to see what they are doing under the water as they spend a
lot of time submerged so when we need to collect samples or photograph a
lesion etc. I have to get in the water with them.  This is scary but very
interesting as the whales seem to be trustworthy and very trusting of us.
>4.  How has the whale population been affected over the last several years
>(polution, oil spills, hunting)?
The right whales off Argentina are being affected by pollution.  The human
waste from fishplants and landfills has grown which has caused the gull
population to grow to an abnormal number. The gulls, in order to survive in
great numbers, has learned to peck the skin and blubber off the whale's
backs where they used to just eat the dead skin that came off the whales as
they moved through the water.  The whales feel pain when the gulls bite and
end of with terrible wounds.  We are working with the Argentine people to
try to find a solution to this problem that will help the whales  and gulls.

All the large whales were threatened by hunting, almost to extinction,
until whaling moratoriums were put into affect in the mid 1900's.  Right
whales floated when they were killed so they were targetted and the
northern right whales were almost hunted to extinction.  There are only
about 350 n. right whales left because they have not been able to make a
comeback since the whaling days.  Now a days the n. right whales are
threatened by ship strikes.
>5.  I read that whales have the same problem drinking saltwater that humans
>do, have you ever had to deal with a whale that has had illness do to this?
No I have not because whales get all the fresh water they need from the
food, plankton they eat.  Their kidneys are specially designed to deal with
excess salt in their bodies so they never get ill from saltwater.
>6.  I have also read that whales have many partners during mating season,
>does this make it hard to tell who the father of the calves are?  Do you have
>special tracking methods?
Again referring to right whales and most whales for that matter, we can not
tell who the father of a calf is but we can tell who individual whales are
by doing genetic testing of their skin.  This is the same procedure we use
to identify individual humans.  We can track the whales using satellite
tags or radio tags but this does not help us determine who the fathers are.
>7.  When a whale beaches itself do other whales do anything in particular in
We still do not know why whales beach themselves for sure but in some cases
we have seen dolphins or pilot whales that have not beached waiting in the
water and looking at the beached whales.  In most cases several whales
(dolphins) beach themselves or strand in large groups so the response is a
mass stranding where they all follow each other.

Kim Marshall-Tilas
Whale Conservation Institute/Ocean Alliance
191 Weston Road
Lincoln, MA  01773
(781) 259-0423
fax: 259-0288