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(FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions)

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Here are some of the answers we have given to questions posted to us. If you have a question which is not included here feel free to ask it. Please make sure you give a legitimate email address for your answer. Just CLICK on our Mailbox --->


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Are there any freshwater whales in the world and if so where?

There are no freshwater whales. The large Baleen and Toothed whales would die in freshwater for no other reason than insufficient food. They gather much more food from the ocean than they ever could from rivers and estuaries. But, there are a number of Dolphins that do live in freshwater.

In the tropical Indo-Pacific there are freshwater, estuarine and coastal species. These include the blind river dolphins, the Indus and Ganges susus of India and Pakistan, and the baiji of the Yangtze River in China. Other moderately similar forms exist in the rivers, estuaries and coastal waters of eastern South America. These include the boto or boutu, a river dolphin of the Amazon and Orinoco basins, and the franciscana, a river dolphin of the La Plata estuary which has extended its range along the coast southwards into the cooler waters of Argentina.

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Have any species of whale become extinct?

Yes, but not in recent times!

Order Cetacea
  • Suborder Archaeoceti - EXTINCT
  • Suborder Odontoceti
    • Superfamily Platanistoidea
      • Family Acrodelphidae - EXTINCT
    • Superfamily Delphinoidea
      • Family Kentriodontidae - EXTINCT
      • Family Albireonidae - EXTINCT
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How many whales live in the oceans today?
Population Estimates
Species/stock Pre-whaling estimate Current estimate (1990)
Blue Whale 228,000 11,700
Bowhead whale 30,000 7,800
Bryde's whale 90,000 43,000
Fin whale 548,000 110,000
Gray whale (eastern Pacific) 20,000+ 18,000
Gray whale (western Pacific) 1,500 - 10,000 100 - 200
Gray whale (Atlantic) unknown extinct
Humpback whale 115,000 10,000
Minke whale 490,000 880,000
Northern Right whale unknown 870 - 1,700
Southern Right whale 100,000+ 3,200
Sei whale 256,000 54,000
Sperm whale 2,400,000 1,950,000
Source: Congressional Records Service of the Library of Congress
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How fast can whales swim?

Whales swim at different speeds depending on what they are doing. They swim faster when they are in danger than when they are not. They swim faster at the surface than in a deep dive and they swim pretty fast when they leap out of the water.

Dolphins moving through the water alongside a boat have attained speeds of 39km/hour (21 knots) over short distances. Migrating whales have been recorded travelling distances of over 3,700km (2,000 nautical miles) at an average continuous speed of 17km/hour (9 knots). These speeds are probably unusual, and prolonged cruising speeds are probably between 9 & 17km/hour (5-9 knots) for dolphins and between 4 & 30km/hour (2-16 knots) for the fast moving rorquals.

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How can Sperm whales hang motionless in water?

A Sperm whale's head has a huge cavity called the spermaceti organ. It holds over 100 litres of a waxy substance which changes density when its temperature changes. By drawing water in through its blowhole and nasal passages the Sperm whale can alter the temperature of the wax. The colder the wax the denser it becomes making the whale less buoyant so that it can sink.

To rise to the surface again the whale simply blows the water out of its nasal passages, causing the wax to warm up and become less dense. The buoyant whale then floats to the surface without even having to swim.

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Do Sperm whales battle with giant squid?

Although male Sperm whales often have large scars on their bodies the scars are usually the result of battles with other adult males and not the result of life-and-death struggles with monstrous squid. Some whales have been seen with large sucker-shaped scars around their heads and these may well have been caused by large squid which the whale was attempting to eat. The largest recorded squid eaten by a Sperm whale was 19.5m long (longer than most Sperm whales) and must have put up a fierce fight to resist being swallowed up whole. Most squid eaten by Sperm whales are, however, much smaller and weigh less than 7kgs.

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What was Moby Dick?

Moby Dick was a great white Sperm whale in the famous novel called "Moby Dick', written by Herman Melville in the 19th century. In the story, Moby Dick was chased across the ocean by the bitter captain of a whaling boat who was seeking revenge for the loss of his leg. The book ended sadly with a 3 day fight between Moby Dick and the hunters. In the end only one man survived the battle.

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How deep can a whale dive?

Different species of whales dive to different depths, but one of the deepest divers is the Sperm whale which can dive more than 1km and even 3kms in search of food. The beaked whales are also good divers. Some are able to dive to at least 1km. Most of the smaller whales and dolphins don't dive this deep, although Bottlenose dolphins are quite capable of diving down to a depth of almost 500 metres.

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Why are Humpback whales called "Humpback"?

Another name for the Humpback whale is the "Hump-backed "whale. Its name being derived from the pronounced hump it has on its back in front of the dorsal fin. Another reason is the way the whale arches or 'humps' its back when diving. The dorsal fin is the triangular fin which stands upright out of the water when a whale swims just below the ocean surface. Much like the shark fin you see in the movies and on television.

The Humpback whale is one of the most energetic of the "Rorquals". The biggest of the Rorqual family is the Blue whale, the largest animal ever to have lived on earth. The Humpback whale is well known for it's spectacular breeching, lobtailing and flipper slapping. It is easily recognised by it's unique flukes (tail fins), knobbly head and long flippers. However, no two Humpback whales are exactly alike; the black and white pigmentation on the underside of their flukes is as unique as a human fingerprint.

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How many telephone booths can you fit in a Blue whale?

"For an average size Blue whale a dog could run along some of its blood vessels, it weighs about as much as 6,000 small children and you could park a car in its mouth." (according to 'Whales and Dolphins' by Eva Plaganyi, 1994)

Most texts are only guesses since Blue whales vary in size depending on their age. Also, since the Blue whale is a 'rorqual' it has throat grooves and these are used much the same way that a pelican uses its pouch when feeding. The grooves fold out so that the mouth can hold more water and therefore more food.

Guestimate:

For a Blue whale resting. 1 car in mouth = 3 telephone booths. Head = 1/4 body.
Total = 3 X 4 or 12 booths.

For a Blue whale feeding. 5 cars in mouth = 15 booths. Head = 1/2 body.
Total = 15 X 2 or 30 booths.

According to the Guiness Book of Records, the female Blue whale is the largest and heaviest animal in the world. The tongue and heart of the largest Blue whale ever recorded (1947) weighed 4.22tons 4.29tonnes and 1540lbs 698.5 kgms respectively.

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What products were made from the whales that were killed during modern whaling?

The most important product of modern commercial whaling was oil. The oil rendered from the blubber of baleen whales was used to produce soap, margarine and other foodstuffs. From Sperm whales the collection of a waxy substance called 'spermaceti' was first used for lamp oil and then for specialised lubricants in the cosmetic, textile and leather industries, and in the making of pencils, crayons and candles. Meat from Sperm whales was used only for animal feed whilst from baleen whales it was used for human consumption. By 1950 meal for animal foodstuffs and chemical products became increasingly important. During post-war famine in Japan baleen whale meat became even more highly valued for human consumption. During the late 1970's whale catches in the Antarctic were yielding 30% meat, 20% oil and 7% meal and solubles. (Alan 1980)

In recent years many suitable alternatives have been found for most of these products. Notably among these is the oil extracted from the seeds of the jojaba shrub (Simmondsia chinensis), a plant from the arid regions of the United States and elsewhere in the world. This oil has been found to be an excellent lubricant and is able to replace Sperm whale oil for most purposes.

In the Western world whale oil has largely been replaced by vegetable and fish oils, while meat for animal feed has been replaced by fishmeals.

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What are the characteristics of Ambergris?

Ambergris is waxy and moist when fresh, dry and brittle when old. The color varies from dull gray through brown to almost black, or may be mottled throughout in alternate bands of light and dark color. There is a characteristic somewhat pleasant earthy odor, intensifed by warming in the hand. It floats, even in fresh water. When slowly heated, it commences to soften at about 140 F, and melts between 145 and 150 F to a dark oily liquid. Test it by inserting a heated wire into it: it will melt around the wire forming a dark, opaque liquid. Touched with the finger when partially melted, it is tacky, it adheres and strings. If the wire to which it adheres is re-heated over a flame, it soon emits a white fume with a characteristic odor, and then burns with a luminous flame. It is very soluble in absolute alcohol, in ether, in fat, or in volatile oils. It may contain squid beaks.

Ambergris has following characters:
  • 1. Floats in water,
  • 2. Dissolves in pure alcohol,
  • 3. Melts if a needle heated in fire is inserted,
  • 4. Forms a fine thread when the needle is removed,
  • 5. It burns if the needle is put in a small fire,
  • 6. The inside usually has layered structure,
  • 7. The color is usually dark brown to pale brown, and
  • 8. It has strong smell, which reminds you of sperm whale faeces.

A new method for the separation and identification of ambrein in ambergris using adsorption chromatography and H-1 and C-13 Fourier transform nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (FT-NMR) is presented. We demonstrated the effectiveness of this method by analyzing an approximately 85-year-old sample of suspected ambergris from the New Bedford Whaling Museum (New Bedford, MA). Results prove that ambrein remains a major constituent of ambergris even after 85 years of storage under ordinary conditions.

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Other than their blowholes, do whales "breath" through their mouths?

Whales can only breath through their blowholes.

Blowholes are the external opening to a whale's nasal passages, rather like our nostrils. In baleen whales, there are two blowholes side by side; in toothed whales, there is just one. Blowholes are situated on or near the top of the head; their exact shape and location vary according to the species. Strong muscles close the blowholes before the animal dives underwater.

Whales are unable to breathe through their mouths, as the trachea and oesophagus are completely separate.

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What is the habitat of the Blue Whale?

Most Blue whales live in the Southern Hemisphere while smaller populations inhabit the North Atlantic and North Pacific. They migrate long distances between low latitude winter mating grounds and high latitude summer feeding grounds and are often seen in parts of California, Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada and the northern Indian Ocean.

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How does a Whale adapt to the different places it goes?

Unlike most other mammals, whales, dolphins, and porpoises do not have thick coats of hair to keep them warm. Instead, they have a layer of insulating fat, known as blubber; this can be as thick as 50cm (20in) in some species.

Some whales dive to great depths and in doing so are subjected to enormous pressure. To accomplish this, without getting the "bends", the whale has developed a number of ways to protect itself from being injured. The whale is a breath-hold diver, taking down only the air contained in its lungs and respiratory passages, so there is little nitrogen to dissolve in the blood and tissues which would give it the bends.

The lungs of whales are not significantly larger than those in land mammals and lung volume is small. Surprisingly, the better diving whales have relatevly small lungs. Clearly, lung capacity does not explain how whales store sufficient oxygen to hold their breath for hours or even minutes. The whale has a modified circulatory system which increases the amount of oxygen the blood can carry. This does not account for the total oxygen need in a dive and other mechanisms operate during diving. These include "diving bradycardia", restricted blood flow to non essential organs and an increased tolerance to lactic acid and carbon dioxide.

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What is the smallest whale in the ocean?

The "Lesser Beaked Whale" is the smallest 'Mesoplodon' species. It is only known from 13 specimens and a handful of possible sightings at sea. Scientists have only been aware of its existence since 1976, when part of a mysterious skull was discovered at a fish market, in San Andres, Peru. The first complete specimen was found at another fish market, just south of Lima, Peru, in 1985. It was not until November 1988 that a fully adult male was found on a deserted beach north of Lima. The new species was officially named in 1991, after the country in which it was found.

Species: "Mesoplodon peruvianus".

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What was the first whale?

The earliest known species of cetacean lived 50 million years ago during the Eocene period. Its name was Pakicetus inachus. Its fossil remains were found in Pakistan.

The earliest odontocetes (toothed whales) were the Agorophiidea a group of short-beaked whales with triangular shark-like teeth. These gave rise to the squalodonts, some of which may have resembled our present-day Killer whales in behaviour, though not in looks. Most were relatively large animals with bodies 3m or more in length. They were most abundant in the late Oligocene and early Miocene periods. Among the odontocetes, the Sperm whales (family Pyhseteridae) are one of the most ancient of living families, fossils found in early Miocene deposits indicate that the earliest Sperm whales lived 23 million years ago.

The mysticetes (baleen or whalebone whales) are generally thought to have evolved from a toothed ancestor (perhaps represented by the extinct family Aetiocetidea) during the Oligocene period. The living mysticetes comprise four families. The oldest of these is the family Balaenidae (right whales) being found in the late Miocene period. There are three living balaenid representatives, the Arctic Bowhead and the northern and southern Right whales.

----------------65 million years
Paleocene
----------------55 million years
Eocene
----------------38 million years
Oligocene
----------------25 million years
Miocene
-----------------5 million years
Pliocene
-----------------2 million years
Pleistocene
-----------------recent

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Can whales smell?

Cetaceans have largely lost the sense of airborne smell that exists in most mammals, as they have little (Baleen whales) or very little (Toothed whales) olfactory receptors. They may have lost this sense when the nostrils disappeared from the front or the beak to the top of the head. The nostril or "blowhole" is for the most part closed except when the animal breathes at the surface. This exchange of air is very rapid and "air smelling' must be of limited use. Baleen whales may still be able to 'sniff the winds' in search of plankton-rich waters.

There is no indication that whales have any mechanism for waterborne smelling as has developed in sharks. This would have required a completely new olfactory system for smelling in animals.

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Do whales sleep?

Whales have to be conscious to breath. This means that they cannot go into a full deep sleep, because then they would suffocate. They have "solved" that by letting one half of their brain sleep at a time. This has been determined by doing EEG studies on dolphins. They sleep about 8 hours a day in this fashion. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, usually associated with dreaming has been recorded only very rarely. Some scientists claim they do not have REM sleep at all.

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What is the 'mamalian diving reflex'?

The mammalian diving reflex in cold water allows survival after long periods of submersion. The diving reflex, first identified in seagoing mammals, slows the heartbeat and constricts the peripheral arteries, shunting oxygenated blood away from the extremities and the gut to the heart and brain. In cold water, the O2 needs of the tissues are reduced, extending the possible time of survival.

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How long can a whale stay underwater?

The Bottlenose whales and Sperm whales can stay underwater for almost 2 hours on long dives. Most of the large whales, like the Blue whale and the Fin whales, rarely stay down longer than 40 minutes while large dolphins such as the Bottlenose dolphin usually stay down for less than 15 minutes. The smaller Common dolphin dives for less than 3 minutes.

The longest recorded dive by a whale (Guinness Book of Records) was that of a Sperm Whale. On 25th August 1969 a bull Sperm Whale surfaced from a dive lasting 1 hour 52 minutes.

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How big is a Blue whale's heart?

According to the Guinness Book of Records a female Blue whale taken on 20th March 1947 had a heart that weighed 1540lbs (698.5kg)

"For an average size Blue whale a dog could run along some of its blood vessels, it weighs about as much as 6,000 small children and you could park a car in its mouth." (according to 'Whales and Dolphins' by Eva Plaganyi, 1994)

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How long do whales live?

The limited information available suggests that mortality rates are low and that cetaceans are usually long-lived. Among odontocetes, smaller species have shorter life spans.

Name Years Reference
Harbour Propoise 15 (Gaskin and Blair 1977; Van Utrecht 1978)
Bottle-nosed Dolphin 25 (Sergeant et al. 1973)
White Whale 25-30 (Brodie 1971)
Northern Bottle-nose Whale 37 (Christensen 1973)
Spotted Dolphin 40-50 (Perrin et al. 1976)
Narwhal 50 (Hay 1980)
Killer Whale male 50+ (Balcomb pers. comm.)
female 80+ (Balcomb pers. comm.)
Short-finned Pilot Whale 63 (Marsh and Kasuya 1984)
Sperm Whale 65-70 (Lockyer unpubl.)
Baird's Beaked Whale 70 (Kasuya 1977)
Humpback Whale 30 (Chittleborough 1959)
Minke Whale 40-50 (Lockyer unpubl.)
Sei Whale 65 (Lockyer unpubl.)
Fin Whale 85-90 (Lockyer unpubl.)
All these values are maximum rather than average life spans.
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How many & where would I find a Narwhal?

Narwhal distribution is circumpolar, mainly in High Arctic, often amongst pack ice and generally more offshore than the white whale. Population size best known for High Arctic (Canada and West Greenland) where estimate is 10,000-30,000; total is unknown, but probably somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000. Resident mainly in Baffin Bay, Davis Strait and Greenland Sea. (Whales & Dolphins P.G.H. Evans 1987)

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How old is Keiko (Free Willy)?

Keiko turned 23 or 24 years old in 2001. He is a Killer whale. He lived in Mexico for about 10-11 years in an amusement park before being purchased, transported to the USA then Iceland where he is today.

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Where are the most whales located in the Atlantic Ocean?

The majority of whales and dolphins (both are cetaceans) can be found along the coastlines of the major continents. Most are either migratory or wide ranging and if not separated by landforms frequent all oceans of the world.

Migratory whales move north and south in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres but in general the northern populations do not meet their southern counterparts. The equator is a natural barrier to the larger whales as they carry far to much blubber for tropical waters.

Therefore, the southern Atlantic migratory whales move from the Antarctic up the coasts of South America to the west, as far as Salvador, and Africa to the east, as far as Angola. The northern Atlantic migratory whales move from the Arctic down the coasts of North America to the west, as far as the Caribbean, and Europe to the east as far as Spain.

Dolphins are free ranging and are usually found between the Continental shelf and the coastline. Some are found around islands and crossing the open oceans. It is safe to say dolphins are found where their food is located.

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How many types of whales can be found in the Atlantic Ocean?

Most species of whales and dolphins inhabit the Atlantic Ocean. Exceptions are the Gray whale, the Beluga, the Narwhal, Baird's Beaked whale, Southern Bottlenose whale, Andrews' Beaked whale, Hubbs' Beaked whale, Ginkgo-toothed Beaked whale, Longman's Beaked whale, Lesser Beaked whale and Stejneger's Beaked whale. Dolphin exceptions are the Northern Rightwhale dolphin, Ind-Pacific Hump-backed dolphin, Black dolphin, Hector's Dolphin, Fraser's Dolphin, Pacific White-sided dolphin, Irrawaddy dolphin and the rare river dolphins.

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Which Atlantic whales are the most common?

The most common to the Atlantic Ocean are the dolphins. They have never been counted so no-one knows exactly how many there are but it must be in the hundreds of thousands. Of the larger whales the Sperm whale had the largest population before whaling and possibly even after whaling stopped. However, the Minke whale seems to be gaining the 'common' title as it was never harvested and has steadily increased in number. The most sighted whale would be the Humpback whale.

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How do researchers know if the whales are the same ones?

Physical characteristics have alway played a major role in identifying whales. So observation has been the only way of telling one whale from another. Many researchers rely on photographs for this purpose. In recent times DNA analysis has allowed scientists to identify whale species especially when only a small piece of meat is available, ie. whalemeat smuggling.

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Is it true that whales have hair but you cannot see it?

The vast majority of cetaceans have lost all unnecessary protruding parts that would offer resistance to water. To minimise drag, the body has become smooth-surfaced and streamlined. Externals such as ear pinnae, protruding mammary glands or reproductive organs and HAIR have become internal or disappeared. The only whale with hair is the Humpback whale. It's head is marked with protruberances containing clumps of hair follicles which provide sites for barnicles and whale lice.

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The Bible says God prepared a fish for Jonah called the Sulfur-bottom whale. Which whale was this?

The Sulphur-bottom whale is the Blue whale. It was called that because its underside is not white but a yellow (sulphur) colour.

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What was the name of the oil extracted from a whale gland during the 19th Century whaling era which was used as a base for perfumes?

There are a number of products from the Sperm whale which were used in the perfume industry of yesteryear.

  • Ambergris (excreted from the Sperm whale) which smelled of musk was used in love-philtres as an aphrodisiac, in cooking and as a fixative in high-quality perfumes and soaps.
  • Sperm whale oil was used for margarine and soap. A byproduct of soap was glycerine which was turned into nitroglycerine, an explosive. Sperm whale oil was used as a drying oil for paints and in tanning chamois leather.
  • Spermaceti oil for polishes, crayons, pencils and in various food coatings. It was also used as a wax base for cosmetics in lipstick, rouge, eyeshadow, cold cream and cleansing creams, shampoos and antiperspirants. It has been used in some cleansing emulsions and preparations for protecting skin.
  • A mixture of Sperm whale oil and Spermaceti was called 'sperm oil' for candles and later for germicides, detergents and antifoams. With added sulphur for sulphurised sperm oil an antiwear additive in lubricants used under extreme pressure and temperature.

Substituted now is Jo Jo ba ("ho ho ba") oil. It is said to be identical, or nearly so, to sperm whale oil. It is used in shampoos and other products. A very good reference for the jojoba oil is:

http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/simchi/index.html

A good reference for Ambergris: http://www.netstrider.com/documents/ambergris/

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Why are some whale species more scarred than others?

The level of visible (i.e. white or unpigmented) scarring on cetaceans varied greatly between species, particualrly for intraspecific scarring in odontocete cetaceans (toothed whales). In some species, unpigmented intraspecific scars may act as an indicator of male 'quality' during aggressive social interactions. Evidence to support this hypothesis was found in 18 species of odontocete cetacean. These were the narwhal (Monodon monoceros), the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), the Risso's dolphin (Grampus grieeus) and the family Ziphiidae (with the exception of Mesoplodon ginkgodens).

The evolution of such signalling is related to the fact that teeth are not required for feeding on certain diets, primarily cephalopod-based diets, and as a result the number of teeth has been reduced. However, some teeth have been retained, and selected, as weapons for male-to-male competition. This has resulted in an increase in the level of intraspecific scarring and a greater need for a signal of 'quality' to avoid costly and dangerous fights. As intraspecific scarring became this signal, the repigmentation rate of scars was reduced leading to all scars remaining premanently unpigmented in these species. - Colin D. MacLeod, B.Sc.

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Can captive dolphins be set free, or is it better for dolphins to live in captivity?

There are two kinds of dolphin in captivity. The first is the captive born dolphin. Dolphins born outside of the wild, it is believed, cannot be released since they have no natural skills to survive. They could not even feed themselves, we are told. Although their keepers can teach them to catch a ball no-one in the captive industry wants to teach them to live in the wild since they don't want them to leave. It serves their purpose to say these dolphins cannot be released.

The second, is the wild dolphin taken from the ocean after it has learned a dolphins way of life. Because these dolphins have already learned to live in the wild it is believed that they can be released. The longer in captivity the more difficult it is to re-teach the dolphin its natural ways (asuming that we know what those natural ways are). Keiko, the Killer whale (Orca) rescued from Mexico is a prime example of this type of creature. Only time will tell if Keiko will return safely to the sea.

The best place for a wild creature is in the wild. It is impossible for humans to create an ocean in a fish tank. . . and dolphins need oceans.

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What term is used to describe a group of whales?

Normally, you will find a pod of whales, however, pod often refers to members of the same family group ie. Killer whales (Orca) have strong social cohesion of groups, members of which, often remain together for life.

Mysticetes (baleen whales) do not appear to be organised into structurally complex groups although dispersed individuals may form discrete units maintained by vocal contact. Close bonds only exist for mother and calf.

Odontocetes (toothed whales) tend to group together into schools, which may often be quite large although their stability in the long term is probably only seen in a few species.

Often prefered is another word to pod it's 'gam' and seems to be the better choice.

Pod - (probably a special application of 'pod' - def. to swell out into a pod.)
a flock or school, as of birds, whales etc.

Gam - probably derived from Scandinavian - Norwegian, Swedish.
Dialect 'gams' , loose conservation, light behaviour.
Possibly derived from Old Norse word 'gems'.

  • 1. A social visit.
  • 2. An exchange of visits between the crews of whaling ships at sea.
  • 3. A school of whales.

Gammed, gamming -

  • 1. to visit socially, especially at sea.
  • 2. to come together; congregate: said of whales.
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Why does it seem that whales are becoming more and more extinct?

Whales should be increasing in numbers! The Moratorium on whaling is still in effect and that means no-one should be killing them. However, Norway and Japan because of a stupid rule have claimed that they can kill a few hundred whales every year. Because there are no Whale Police no-one can stop them.

Since the whales are supposed to be increasing why them arn't we seeing them?

It probably means that they are not coming into your area anymore. There are many reasons but the main ones could be:

Pollution - water which runs off the land carrying industrial waste, agricultural fertilizers and/or sewerage could be making the water dirty enough that the whales avoid the area.

Boat traffic - headlands to bays and rivers are usually congested with shipping coming to and leaving from ports. Ships are both noisy and smelly. So, it's no surprise that whales would avoid them if possible. Another thing about ships is that if the ship is very big it can strike a whale without even knowing it. Big ships cannot easily manouver so its likely they could not avoid a whale even if they saw it.

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Do whales care for their young?

The bond between the mother and calf is a special facet of behaviour which follows a similar pattern across all cetacean species. At birth the mother will assist its calf, usually born tail first, to the surface to gain its first breath. During this time the mother may be attended by others (usually nonpregnant females), sometimes referred to as 'aunts', and these have been observed assisting the mother in taking the young to the surface. There are even some accounts of these aunts helping the mother herself if she is in difficulty. These assisting actions take the form of the individual being supported from underneath by one or more others, which then swim to the surface. An attending female has been seen to actually bite through the umbilical cord of a captive Dusky dolphin during birth of her young, but usually the mother does this herself. Most of these observations have been made on captive animals and it is not clear the extent to which they occur in the wild.

Throughout the early period of life the calf keeps very close to its mother, positioning itself above the midline forward of the dorsal fin of the mother. The calf's flipper may actually be pressed against her side and this allows it to move with her without a great expenditure of energy. Otherwise the calf is precocious and many of the senses and actions necessary for survival are well developed very early in life. The calf, as in all cetaceans, is dependent upon its mother for food which it obtains from the fat-rich milk.

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Why do we need whales?

Every human being has a biological need that must be constantly met - oxygen. And 70% of the oxygen added to the atmosphere each year comes from plankton in the sea. Serious damage to the world ocean therefore could endanger the entire atmosphere of the earth. During the last two decades (1950's and 60's) man has killed so many of the large whales that four species of whale have been reduced from a total of several million to just a few thousand.

Every one of these vanished millions of whales used to consume several hundred tons of a large species of zooplankton a year. That plankton now is undergoing a classic population explosion for want of a predator. What will be the effect on the oxygen-producing smaller plankton of the world ocean? What will be the effect on the colour and reflectivity of the oceans? What will be the effect on the average water temperature of the oceans, on its dissolved oxygen content and subsequently on the earth's atmosphere? No one knows.

Climatologists know any significant change in ocean temperature can have profound effects on the earth's climates. By killing off the whales of the world man is playing Russian roulette with the earth's primary support system.

Yes, we desperately need the whales to preserve the air we breathe.

[George Small, Ph.D.,College of Staten Island, 'Why Man Needs The Whales', in Project Interspeak, ed. T. Wilkes, San Francisco, 1979]

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Why is the Equator a natural barrier to whales?

The baleen whale species that approach the Equator from the north to mate and calve, if they were then to carry on south after the mating and calving season in the northern winter would encounter the southern winter in what was supposed to be their summer feeding season. Any baleen whale doing that would not be able to find food.

Whales may also be no different from other animals that are genetically "programmed" to return to certain areas. In addition, there is a lot of evidence that whales have preferred feeding and calving areas and go back to the same regions they were taken to by their mothers.

However, the Equator is not an absolute barrier. Through photo-ID researchers have shown that humpback whales in the Antarctic migrating along the west coast of South America, cross the Equator and proceed up along the coast of Colombia and even into offshore Panama waters for their mating and calving grounds. They then return to the Antarctic (or subantarctic) joining the other southern hemisphere humpback whales.

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What is being done to protect whales?

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the recognised world organisation in charge of whales. It presides over all the High Seas except for the Economic Exclusion Zones (EEZ's) of all the countries claiming them. It was set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling which was signed in Washington D.C. on 2nd December 1946. The purpose of the Convention is to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.

Because of uncertainties in the scientific analysis and therefore the precise status of the various whale stocks, the IWC decided at its meeting in 1982 that there should be a pause in commercial whaling on all stocks from the 1985/86 season - an indefinate moratorium (not a perminent one).

In May 1993, the IWC passed a resolution endorsing in principle a Southern Ocean Sanctuary. Sanctuaries for whales are not a new concept for the IWC. It is explicitly authorised to "designate sanctuary areas". In 1937 whaling was prohibited within a vast area of the Pacific (south of 40degs.S) known as The Sanctuary. After only a decade it was abandoned. In 1979, the IWC declared the Indian Ocean (north of 55degs.S) a sanctuary for whales. Initially temporary, it was made perminant in 1992.

The Southern Ocean Sanctuary was finally adopted during the IWC meeting in Mexico, 1994. This was the single greatest accomplishment of the meeting and indeed of the previous 10 years. The sanctuary being the largest protected area for whales in the world and contiguous with the existing Indian Ocean Sanctuary. The sanctuary prohibits the killing of all baleen and toothed whales irrespective of its conservation status.

Over many years the great whales were hunter to near extinction and as each species declined they were placed on the "Endangered Species List".

Only two countries officially kill the large whales today, those being Norway and Japan. Both carry-on whaling through loop-holes in the rules of the IWC. Loop-holes which are rules that are mis-read or mis-interpreted deliberately in order to continue whale killing in some way. There are some countries involved in killing whales through their claim of "Aboriginal Whaling" or "Subsistance Whaling". They are:

  • Canada:
    • Kills 2,600 Beluga every year out of total population of 55,000.
    • The IWC has recommended total protection for Beluga.
    • The IWC has been ignored. Canada resigned from the IWC.
  • Alaska:
    • Kills 1,000 Beluga.
    • Kills Bowhead whales every year. Total population less than 2000 animals.
    • Killing by the Inuit protected as "subsistance hunting."
  • Greenland:
    • Kills 1,500 Beluga every year.
  • Iceland:
    • Plans to kill 200 Fin whales.
    • Plans to kill 3,500 Pilot whales.
  • Denmark:
    • Kills 3500 pilot whales every year.
  • Chile:
    • Considering resumption of full scale commercial whaling.
  • Peru:
    • Considering resumption of full scale commercial whaling.
  • Korea:
    • Considering resumption of full scale commercial whaling.
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Does whale watching affect whales?

Like most things anything done to excess is not good. Some countries have or are putting in place rules for whale watching. Also, at the last meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) whale watching was put on the agenda and preliminary discussions were held. The Commission has asked for countries with rules in place to submit them so that a universal set of rules can be made.

Most of the rules so far are basic 'common sense' like "Don't get in the whales path." and "Only a small number (about 3) of boats to approach at one time."

The only forseable problem is that as watching becomes more popular more boats will go out and more mishaps will occur. Many tours are centered around breeding grounds and a group of boats may interfere with mating and that could be dangerous for the boats as courting can become very vigorous. Fights can also break out between males.

As far as the whales are concerned we are interesting to them and more times than not a whale will approach a stationary boat for a closer look.

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Please tell me about the organization you're involved with?

The organization I am involved with is 'Whales in Danger'. It is a club formed after I was contacted by many people who wanted to help save the whales but were unable to actually do something because of their careers and/or family responsibilities.

It soon became obvious that there were children who felt the same as the adults so it was decided to make the joining fee as small as possible so that no-one would feel left out. Currently the joining fee is one U.S. dollar or equivalent (US$1)

Whales in Danger has 155 members (Dec 2005). Find out how you can JOIN HERE.

Since forming the Club, members have created a Fighting Fund which will soon be able to contribute financially to causes and research.

The primary objectives of the Club is to serve the needs of its members, through research and education, in the conservation of cetaceans, and any other marine animal of interest; and such other activities as the Club may determine.

Whales have been out-of-sight and often out-of-mind for far too long.

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WHALES ON THE NET - http://www.whales.org.au the Online Voice of WHALES IN DANGER (WID)
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