Subject: Whale Questions

Phillip J. Clapham (
Thu, 7 Oct 1999 14:42:22 -0400 (EDT)

Hi class:
Thanks for the questions!  here are some answers (and one "don't know"):
1) What other whales breach?  Actually, most whales do at one time or
another, but some do it a lot more than others.  Gray whales and right
whales frequently breach.  Fin, blue, sei, Bryde's, minkes and bowheads do
so a lot less.	It's not really clear why there are these species
differences; breaching in humpbacks serves a lot of different functions
including (probably) excitement, play, communication and perhaps parasite
removal 9and maybe even digestion!)
2) Why don't toothed whales have barnacles?  Actually, some do - and not
all baleen whales have barnacles either.  They're rare on really fast
whales like finbacks or blues for example, much more common on slower
whales like humpbacks.	Speed is probably the thing here, though no one
knows for sure.  Barnacle larvae are free-swimming in the water, and they
presumably have to "attach" to a whale, so it may be that the slower speed
of humpbacks and grays (etc) explains why they have a lot more barnacles
than the speed machines like finbacks.	This would also explain why most
dolphins and other toothed whales don't, since they're generally fast
animals.  Male beaked whales have barnacles on their teeth sometimes.
3) How deep can sperm whales dive?  Amazingly deep!  Tagged animals have
dived to at least 7000 feet.  There is a record of a sperm whale that was
killed by a whaling ship years ago and when it was cut up they found in its
stomach a species of shark that is known to live on the ocean floor.  The
ocean floor at the place they caught the whale was 10,000 feet, so the
assumption is that the whale went down that far to get it!
4) Why are sperm whales wrinkled?  Great question, don't know the answer.
Whether the wrinkling has some purpose is a mystery (at least to me!)  Ask
Dr Hal Whitehead at Dalhousie University (don't have his email address to
hand, but I'm sure you can find it on the Web).
5) How do you make a model of baleen?  Well, the easiest thing to do is to
find pictures of baleen (single plates, and also whole racks), then make a
bunch of plates the right shape out of construction paper.  Make sure you
get the color right, which varies for different whales (humpback baleen is
mostly black, for example); also the shape and length - humpback baleen is
rather broad and triangular, while right whale and bowhead baleen in very
long (up to 14 feet in bowheads!)  Baleen whales generally have several
hundred plates on each side of their mouths, but you might not want to do
the whole thing!  The plates - however many you do - should all be joined
together at the top, since in the whale they all hang from the upper jaw in
a rack.  The inner surface of all baleen is fringed with hair (coarse for
humpbacks, very fine for right whales), so you'll have to find something
that looks like hair when you put all the plates together.  Good luck!
Phil Clapham