Subject: Re: killer whale questions (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 14:37:15 -0400 (EDT)

Date: Wed, 09 Oct 96 12:32:24 EST
Subject: Re: killer whale questions

     1.  Killer whales (orcas) use their teeth to catch prey.  Killer 
     whales eat a wide variety of food including other marine mammals, 
     fish, sharks, birds, and turtles.
     2.  Killer whales use their tail (flukes) to propel themselves through 
     the water.  By rapidly moving the tail, they could gain enough 
     momentum to jump.
     3.  Killer whales can feed individually, or work together to catch 
     prey.  The latter is very interesting to watch.  Killer whales have 
     been seen to feed coordinated to catch marine mammals and to corral 
     fish into tight balls.  Killer whales could either use echolocation 
     (sonar) to find food, or look for it with their eyes, or even just 
     listen for the food to make sounds.  If the killer whale doesn't make 
     sound, prey like marine mammals, wouldn't be able to tell as quickly 
     that a killer whale was nearby.
     4.  I'm not sure I'd agree with the idea that killer whales would not 
     attack people.  There is a famous incident of a pilot whale that 
     grabbed a lady by the thigh that was swimming with it.  Killer whales 
     and other dolphins are wild animals, and people need to remember that 
     it can be dangerous to swim with them.  In fact, in U.S. waters, it is 
     against the law to swim with any type of marine mammal.  There is also 
     an incident of a trainer that was killed by a killer whale in 
     For the most part, killer whales seem to be "tame" in captive 
     situations, and work well with their trainers.  Also, in the wild, 
     many people in some locations will kayak with the whales swimming 
     around them...quite safely.  

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Orca whales
Author:  TIAC CUSTOMER <> at ~smtp
Date:    10/7/96 11:10 AM

How do orcas eat how do orcas  billed up the  speed
to jump.How do orcas attck their pray.why do orcas not attck pepole.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: 09 Oct 96 10:19 EST
To: "CLAPHAM,PHIL"@SIMNH.SI.EDU, "G.ask [Private Mail Group]"@SIMNH.SI.EDU,
    "G.q [Private Mail Group]"@SIMNH.SI.EDU, "LEIF@KUDONET.COM"@SIVM.SI.EDU
Subject: Copy of: WHALE FLIPPER BONES?

Original message: "WHALE FLIPPER BONES?"
From: <<>>

While on the beach the other day, on the San Francisco Penninsula about 30
miles south of the city, I came across a set of large bones with some flesh
still attached. The bones resembled part of a giant (~200cm long) hand.

I assume the bones were from the flipper of a whale, but wonder if they
could come from the flukes.

 Five-boned "fingers" seemed to join at a "wrist" bone. There were three
"fingers" on this fragment.
The largest pieces of a "finger" were larger than a hand-span across,
probably 30 cm, and were nearly twice that in length, approximately two
hand-spans. In depth they were probably ~15 cm. The tips of the fingers
were "small", about a hand span in length, and quite flat, with a simple
profile of the broad side that was similar to a pair of backwardly oriented
paranthese: )(. The larger bones had a more tapering profile. In the joints
was a tough brown cartiledge, about 5 cm thick.  The "fingers" were all
held closely together by softer meat, tendons?

I took pictures, but don't have a scanner.

So... Do you think it was a piece of a whale flipper? Or an
extra-terrestrial that met a bad fate? Or what?


  What follows comes largely from my good friend Dr Jim Mead here at
Smithsonian (I'm not an anatomist, and Jim's one of the best).  First
of all, you sound like a great observer, and we appreciate the detailed
description you gave of this alien mass.

  What you found is definitely a cetacean flipper, the question is
what species.  Assuming that you correctly counted five sets of finger
bones, this rules out many of the baleen whales.  Balaenopterids
(blue, fin, minke, sei, Bryde's and humpback whales) have only four,
as do gray whales.  The other baleen whale possibilities - right or
bowhead - seem extremely unlikely given the location.  Bowheads are
never seen outside the Arctic or subarctic.  Right whales are so rare
in the eastern North Pacific that a sighting of a single animal today
merits publication.

  The other possibilities are also a bit unlikely, but not impossible.
The size of the flipper (200 cm) restricts it to a large male killer
whale or a Baird's beaked whale.  Anything else is really too small.
Both orcas (killer whales) and Baird's beaked whales are found off
California, but not commonly.

  If you somehow confused the number of fingers and it was actually
four not five, then it is very likely to be a baleen whale.  A gray
whale is the most likely candidate because grays are common in
the region during migration.  It is unlikely to be a humpback because
the humpback (though common there) has huge flippers, and 200 cm (six
feet) would be a very small whale.  Furthermore, humpbacks have two
very long sets of finger bones that stand out from the others.

  So the bottom line is: don't know, but regrettably it isn't an alien
(no, not even in California).  If you send photos we might get a better
idea; will be happy to look at them, and will of course return them
to you.  (Address: Phil Clapham, Smithsonian Institution, NHB 390
MRC 108, Washington DC 20560).