Subject: Re: Whale Questions

Phil Clapham (
Fri, 08 Oct 1999 18:14:36 -0400

Hi again:

> - What are the approximate measurements of an adult humpback's fluke in comparison to a calf?
Hmm, depends on how old the calf is.  They are about 13 feet at birth,
and maybe 26-30 feet or so when they separate from mom a year later.  At
birth, the tail is probably about a third the width of the mom's, more
like 2/3 or so at independence.

> - What is the cause of death for most whales?  What happens to a whale after it dies?
Depends on the species.  With right whales in the N Atlantic a lot of
mortality is related to humans, mostly ship collisions.  With other
whales it's natural causes - old age, parasites etc.  What happens to
them when they die?  Well, if they've been good they go to heaven. 
Failing that, they either sink, decompose, bloat and float, then sink
again, or for some whales like right whales they float immediately. 
Either way, they get eaten by small critters.

> - Do all narwhals have the "horn" on their heads?
Nope - only adult males.  Every once in a while a female shows up with a
tusk (occasionally two), but it's rare.

> - What is the "horn" used for? Can it break?  If so, will it grow back?
It does grow, but if it snapped close to the head (unlikely - it's very
strong) it wouldn't grow back full size.  Not sure what it's used for -
probably males fight each other with the tusks.

> - Do all whales migrate?
Most large whales do, but the pattern varies among species.  In some
species only some whales in a population migrate (e.g. right whales, it
seems to be largely females who are going to watmer water to give
birth).  In others (e.g. humpbacks, gray whales) most of the animals
undertake the migration.

> - Have any whales eaten people?...they are very interested in this for some reason - how morbid.
No - there are no reliable reports of this.  Most baleen whales couldn't
anyway - the throat is a few inches across!

> - Which whales can be identified by their flukes?
Humpbacks are the easiest because they have a very variable pattern of
black and white markings on the underside.  Sperm whales can also, and
any whale that lifts its tail in the air (bowheads, blues, rights,
grays) may have some distinctive tail markings like scars, or a
distinctive tail shape, that helps ID the individual.

> - How long does a calf usually stay with the mother?
Humpbacks: one year.  other baleen whales: 6-8 months.  Sperm whales:
many years.

> - Does a Sperm whale lobtail?
Yes, sometimes.

> - Do whales "burp"?....They insisted I ask!
Nope!  At least I've never seen it!

> ----------
> >From: Phil Clapham <>
> >To: Danielle Renz <>
> >Subject: Re: Whale Questions
> >Date: Fri, Oct 8, 1999, 6:53 AM
> >
> >You're very welcome!
> >
> >Danielle Renz wrote:
> >>
> >> Thank you so much for the immediate response to our questions...they were
> >> very excited and requested copies of the email.  We've already decided to
> >> create a "question box" now that that have been encouraged by your answers.
> >> I appreciate the help!
> >>
> >> Danielle Renz
> >> ----------
> >> >From: "Phillip J. Clapham" <>
> >> >To: "Danielle Renz" <>,,
> >>
> >> >Subject: Whale Questions
> >> >Date: Thu, Oct 7, 1999, 12:42 PM
> >> >
> >>
> >> >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
> >> >
> >> >
> >
> >--
> >
> >Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D.
> >Large Whale Biology Program
> >Northeast Fisheries Science Center
> >166 Water Street
> >Woods Hole, MA 02543
> >
> >tel (508) 495-2316
> >fax (508) 495-2066
> >Internet:


Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D.
Large Whale Biology Program
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
166 Water Street
Woods Hole, MA 02543

tel (508) 495-2316
fax (508) 495-2066