Subject: oil; Gulf of Mexico; tails; hourglass dolphin, etc.

Dagmar Fertl (
Thu, 23 Sep 1999 11:40:03 PDT


Thank you for you quick response to our questions.  Here are some more for 
you from the other half of my class.

of whales do you study?

large?  How big is a blue whale's fluke?

same, do they act the same too?

respect you get as a scientist?

before?  If so, where?

Thank you,
Sue Shirley
Aaron and Nick,
It depends on the type of whale - baleen vs toothed, where the whale lives, 
time of year, etc. Oil could affect whales if they swim through it; breath 
in oil fumes; and get it on their baleen. You two might ask your teacher (or 
do it yourself) to go to the MMS website (link is listed via the WhaleNet 
website under A.S.K.), and to look under educational resources (or within 
the whale page itself there is a link) for the whale and dolphin teacher's 
packet. This can be downloaded and printed out - there is a section talking 
about some possible impacts of oil on Gulf of Mexico marine mammals.  Hope 
this helps.  Additionally, your teacher or you could look thru the MMS 
website for the number of the Public Information office and ask for a copy 
of an EIS (environmental impact statement). There is a whole section in 
there (maybe a little too complicated for you to understand, but your 
teacher could help) talking about effects of oil and other oil/gas drilling 
George H. and Dan N.,

That's a really good question about the tail name. Actually, each half of 
the tail is a fluke, so the whole tail is called 'flukes'. Since I don't 
know anatomy of whales in great detail, I'm afraid I can't tell you the 
answer as to where the name came from. I would guess that it's possible the 
name is probably latin for something to do with the shape of it ???

I study toothed whales - odontocetes. My specialty is dolphins, since that's 
what we have a lot of in the Gulf of Mexico.  I have learned a lot about 
sperm whales and Bryde's whales, which are the largest and most common 
toothed and baleen whales (respectively) in the Gulf. I did write a paper 
that was recently published about a Cuvier's beaked whale that had stranded 
on a Texas beach with unusual stomach contents including a mango seed.
large?  How big is a blue whale's fluke?

I don't know what would happen if a baleen whale swallowed a fish that was 
too large. I do know that sometimes humpback whales get sea birds in their 
mouths that were sitting on the water and trying to feed on the same fish 
the whales were.  I think baleen whales have pretty big throats, especially 
those feeding on fishes, since they have throat grooves which look like a 
pouch when the animal is feeding. Also, you may (or not) know that whales 
swallow their food whole (regardless if they have teeth or not) and don't 
chew (or gum) their food.

I'm not sure about the length of a blue whale's tail. Sounds like a good 
thing to go and look up on the Internet or in the library! There's a nice 
little blue whale book by John Calambokidis and Gretchen Steiger that was 
published just a year or so ago by Voyageur Press. I bet that book might 
have the answer to your flukes question.
Zach and Hilary,

I don't really think killer whales and hourglass dolphins look the same.  
Looking again at photos of both of those animals, the only characteristics 
that I can see that you might have thought makes them look similar is a 
short and stubby beak, some white near the eye, and then white around the 
side and lower part of the body. However, size is a big difference between 
the two species, and there is much more white on the hour-glass (which is 
how they got their name - hourglass- because of the sideways hour glass 
shape on the side of the body).  Hourglass dolphins certainly have not been 
studied as well as their larger dolphin relative - the killer whale.  
Information on the lives of killer whales can be found by searching the 
WhaleNet website and links that are provided.
Andrew and Lilly,

There are records of 28 different species of whales and dolphins in the Gulf 
of Mexico...ranging from bottlenose dolphins to sperm whales to humpback 
whales to beaked whales to pilot whales, etc. I put some information for 
Aaron and Nick above that you can use to get more information on Gulf of 
Mexico whales and dolphins thru the webpage that I helped create. There are 
pictures of 26 of the 28 whale and dolphin species found here.
Will and Amy,

My parents are from Vienna, Austria. I am a first-generation U.S. citizen.  
I'd like to think that when a scientist (like me) is respected, it's because 
of my experience as a scientist and what I have learned and what I have 
contributed to science in general, as well as sharing my information with 
kids and adults who are not scientists, but who want to (or need to) learn 
about the marine environment and marine mammals.  If you work hard, you can 
overcome many obstacles.  The nice thing about marine mammal work is that 
are many women (like me) involved in this field.  Certainly, being a 
scientist from and working in the United States has many advantages - 
advantages that people living in countries where there maybe is not enough 
money or other types of support to do science, do not have.  This is why 
it's important that scientists (and other people!) work together and help 
each other, so that we can learn as much as possible about the animals and 
work towards keeping healthy numbers of marine mammals alive.
Catherine and Thomas,

Scientists who study marine mammals call the La Plata dolphin the 
'franciscana'.  As you know, this species is found off the east coast of 
South America. Unfortunately, I've never been to South America.  I do have 
friends who have studied this dolphin. The only franciscana I've seen is in 
a photograph.

Get Your Private, Free Email at