Subject: General whale questions

Phillip J. Clapham (
Wed, 6 Oct 1999 17:51:18 -0400 (EDT)

Hello all:
Thanks for the questions.  here are answers:
1) Why do humpbacks bend when they breathe?  Well, humpbacks don't really
bend when they breathe.  They bend (arch their backs) when they're diving
deeply, and this is just to get a steep angle so they can go down to depth
more quickly.
2) Hmmm... most amazing discovery?  Well, maybe that some humpbacks go from
the Caribbean to the Arctic on migration, around 5000 miles.  And just last
week we got photos of a right whale in northern Norway which the right
whale folks at the New England Aquarium recognized - it was a whale seen
over here for almost twenty years, and last seen this year in May just off
Cape Cod - several thousand miles from Norway!
3) How do age whales? You can't really tell the age of a living whale.	If
some baleen whales (like humpbacks) are found dead, there is a sort of plug
which grows inside their ears and which puts on a couple of layers a year,
so by dissecting the whale, counting the layers and dividing by two you can
get a good idea of how old the whale is.  The oldest humpback aged this way
was 48 years, but it's likely some humpbacks live longer than that.  we
know right whales can live to at least 70, and there's a strong suggestion
that bowhead whales can be more than a hundred.
4) Why did baleen whales and toothed whales evolve?  It's thought that
baleen whales and the modern toothed whales both evolved from toothed
ancestors.  Why they separated like that is not known for sure, but
probably relates to the fact that they evolved to take advantage of
different types of food in the oceans.	By evolving baleen, baleen whales
could eat the richest food resources in the sea - the plankton and small
schooling fish.
5) Why is a tail a fluke?  Actually, a fluke is technically one half of the
tail, so each tail has two flukes.  But the whole tail is also called the
fluke, which comes from this name for each side.
Best wishes,

Phil Clapham