Subject: whales

Greg Early (
Wed, 10 Nov 1999 11:17:51 -0500

At 02:41 PM 11/09/99 -0500, you wrote:
>Thank you in advance for answering the children's questions.  They are
>fifth graders. 
>From Emily Ar. and Maddie D. : Are their whales at the aquarium?  What>kind?

Emily Ar. and Maddie D., 

No, we do not have whales at the Aquarium.  We now have harbor seals, sea
lions, and sea otters.  We do take people on whale watches from the
Aquarium to see whales that are about twenty miles away in Cape Cod Bay.

>From Sarah and Lindy: Have you ever found a whale alive on the beach?  Why
>do whales stran themselves?  Is there a certain time of year that you are
>most likely to find stranded whales?

Sarah and Lindy:  Yes, sometimes many at once.  These are small whales
(pilot whales).

We do  not know all of the reasons why whales strand, but usually it is due
to the whale being sick, injured or a young whale that was abandoned by its
mother or group.

Why whole groups of whales end up on the beach is more complicated, but I
think it has a lot to do with a problem within the group that distracts or
panics the whales and they end up too close to shore.  Whale and dolphin
groups will try to stay together , even if it means ending up on the beach

Around Cape Cod, most whale and dolphin strandings seem to happen from
Nonmember to January.  Historically, pilot whales also stranded during
summer months, but we have not seen a similar pattern for over twenty years.
>From Tim and George: What type of diseases do whales get?

Tim and George:  For quite a while people did not think whales got the same
kinds of diseases that are found in other mammals.  We now know that whales
can get all of the same general kinds of disease.  They can have parasites,
and disease caused by them, they can be injured, and have "old age" related
problems, and they can have infectious diseases as well.  If this was not
enough whales can also be made sick from toxins in their food (and maybe
their water as well, but scientists are not as sure about this one).  The
toxins can get into the food web either by people dumping waste into water
and it getting into the ocean, or from natural occurring toxins that are
produced by some marine animals and make their way into the food web as well.
>From Nick and Aaron:  Why do whales strand themselves and how do you
>rescue sperm whales?
Nick and Aaron:  See the answer above for some of the reasons why we think
whales strand.  Rescuing a sperm whale (or a bunch of sperm whales) would
be quite difficult.  Because they are so large, it would be very difficult
to move a large sperm whale and if you were lucky, the whales might strand
in an area where the type of equipment you would need would be available.
If not, then you might also be lucky enough to have the whales strand at a
low or mid tide, so that they would re float on their own in a short time,
so the main job would be done by the tide.  As you can see, in this case, a
lot would depend on luck.

In fact, many years ago the Aquarium rescued and cared for a baby sperm
whale.  It was abandoned by its mother and was so young it had to be fed a
whale milk formula.  The whale was about 18 feet long.  Unfortunately the
whale was also badly starved, and sick and only lived a little over a week.

>From Maggie and Stephanie:  How do you know when a whale is dead?  Do
>whales strand themselves on purpose?

Maggie and Stephanie:  Actually, because a whale can hold its breath a long
time, it may not be that easy.  However, we have equipment with us to
listen for heart beats, take body temperature, and there are other
observations we can make (looking for reflexes, and eye response) that can
tell us for sure.

There are some times that some types of dolphins chase their food into such
shallow water that they might get stuck.  This is the only time we think
whales or dolphins get even close to stranding on purpose.  But even in
those cases I doubt the dolphins are trying to get themselves beached, so,
No I don't think they ever intend to strand.

Thanks for the questions,


>Sue Shirley
>Dedham Country Day School 
>Dedham, MA
Greg Early
Edgerton Research Laboratory				
New England Aquarium
Central Wharf
Boston, Mass 02110
617-973-5246 (phone)
617-723-6207 (FAX)