As a general rule, the gestation period (length of time they are pregnant before giving birth) for whales is long, about one year for most. Some whales have gestation periods even longer than this. For example, the sperm whale and pilot whale have gestation periods of 15 or 16 months. --From Lisa
7) Linda Krieger asks, "How big was the killer whale that swam alongside the Malcolm Baldrige?"
This was an unusual sighting for us because killer whales are almost always found in groups (or pods). These groups generally contain several females and their calves, and the adult females are usually related (sisters, mothers and daughters, or cousins). Additionally, each group contains young males and sometimes one, occasionally two, adult males. Adult males are much larger than adult females so large animals are most always males. The animal we saw was alone, without any other killer whales, and it was of intermediate size for a killer whale -- about 18 feet long. Because it was alone, curious, and of intermediate size, we believe it was a young animal and we don't know whether it was a male or female. --From Lisa
8) Howard Xi has asked a question that people have spent their lives studying, "How are whales different from other fish."
An important distinction here is that whales are not "other" fish; they evolved from land mammals. So whales are mammals and not fish. Because of that, the most important ways they differ from fish have to do with the fact that fish evolution all took place in the water, while much of the evolution of whales took place on land. This means that whales have a lot of traits and behaviors that land mammals have and that fish don't have. For example, whales normally give birth to one live young at a time and nurse their offspring; fish typically (but not always) lay many, many eggs at a single time and never nurse their young. Whales are airbreathers with lungs while fish breathe with gills. Whales are warm-blooded and maintain a constant body temperature, while fish are cold-blooded: their body temperature is the same as the water they swim in (although there are a few fish that do have warm bodies).
Another interesting difference is that fish swim with a side- to-side movement of their tail, while whales and dolphins all swim with an up- and-down movement of the tail. Why whales use an up/down movement is obvious if you think about it: when a 4-legged land animal runs it brings its legs up underneath, arching the back and straightening it out. If you replace the hind limbs of a land mammal with a whale tail, the arching backbone that once sent a cheetah across an African plain can also send a fin whale through the ocean. --From Bob
9) Destin Leeper asks "How large was the biggest killer whale you've spotted on this voyage?"
We have only seen one killer whale on our trip so far and that was the one I described above (see answer #7). In general, killer whales are more common close to shore and in fairly cold waters. They are less common in the tropics and open ocean, where we are spending most of our time, but you can see killer whales in all waters of all the oceans. --From Lisa
10) Jason Hunchuck, you ask "Do you believe whales evolved from land animals?"
Yes, I do and I'll tell you why. Evolution happens at such a slow pace that humans can't really percieve it so we have to look for clues. In this case, if whales evolved from land animals we might expect to see some traits still evident in whales that would be useful to a land animal but not really useful for an aquatic mammal, and we do see those. For example, whales don't need legs any more but they still retain remnants of their hip bones (hip bones allow for firm attachment of the legs to the body). And a few whales have actually been observed with tiny, useless little legs dangling from the sides of their bodies. Also, if you think about it, having lungs and living in the ocean is a real inconvenience. A sperm whale for example feeds thousands of feet below the surface; having to come all the way back up to the surface to catch a breath of air is a major inconvenience. Every animal that has evolved in the sea has some way of obtaining oxygen directly from the water. In most cases, these animals use gills. Gills don't work on land and most land animals have lungs instead. And when land animals went back into the sea they took their lungs with them. This works out well for us as whale watchers because the only time we get to see these animals is when they come to the surface to breathe! --From Bob
Back for more Questions and Answers