This is a difficult question to answer and one that many biologists have thought about for years - about whales and about other animals that are threatened with extinction. We know that each species on this earth affects many other species of both plants and animals. Sometimes these effects are not direct. We still have a lot to learn about the complex web of interactions that occur between all the animals in the ocean. So, I don't know exactly what would happen if whales became extinct and I don't think anyone does. The only thing I can say for sure is that for every species that becomes extinct, we have lost forever the chance to learn from it. I don't want to lose this chance and I believe that future generations deserve to see and experience the wonder of whales and dolphins. So I work to see that they are protected and I hope that you will too. --From Lisa
12) Danny Haas and Brian Moskover wonder, "Has the ship ever been attacked by a whale?"
I can't answer for the MALCOLM BALDRIGE because this is the first time I've sailed on her. But I have sailed on many other vessels of all sizes in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean and none of these have ever been attacked by whales. It is interesting that I have been in situations where whales could have attacked if they had wanted to.
For example, once I was on a small boat (38 ft) in the Gulf of California and we were surrounded by fin whales feeding on krill (small shrimp-like animals). The krill were thick in the water and everywhere, whales were coming to the surface with their huge mouths open. Sometimes the whales surfaced right in front of the boat; sometimes they swam alongside almost within touching distance. I got the distinct impression that these whales knew exactly where we were and had precise control over how close they got to our boat. It was thrilling to see how powerful they were at such close range, but we never felt any threat from their presence. There are a few rare reports of whales attacking ships and small boats but none of these as far as I know have ever been confirmed. When you think about it, a whale doesn't have any reason to attack a ship because they eat tiny organisms, much much smaller than you and I. --From Lisa
I believe that marine mammals (whales and dolphins) are much more curious animals than they are aggressive animals. So most of the time, we see whales, and especially dolphins approach the ship to investigate and determine what we are. After all, wouldn't you be curious if you saw some strange object (maybe from outer space) land in your front yard? You'd want to check it out, too.
Dolphins usually will swim toward the bow of the ship, particulary when we are moving at full speed (14 knots or about 16 miles per hour). They can ride on the bow wave that the ship creates, and by staying no more than a few feet just ahead of the bow, the dolphins can surf along at 14-15 knots, without using much energy to swim. They get a free ride, and their playful behavior really shows that they enjoy it.
While the MALCOLM BALDRIGE is underway, we are also sending out sound signals that bounce off the bottom and allow us to determine the depth of the ocean along our track. The frequency of that sound is in the same range that whales and dolphins use for echo-location and communication among themselves. So to the whales, our depth sounding "pings" may sound like another whale of dolphin sending out "clicks" and "whistles." Being curious animals, I'm sure that many of the whales and dolphins that we see approach close to the ship may be coming near to figure out what our "clicks" and "whistles" are all about. Have you ever heard the sounds that whales make? I'll see if I can copy a tape that I have aboard ship, and you and your classmates can listen to the magical and mysterious calls of whales.
13) Kasey Barger and Amanda McClung want to know, "Can different types of whales mate together?"
The answer is yes, but not often. Most mating between different species of dolphins is known from animals kept in captivity. For example, a false killer whale and a bottlenose dolphin once mated and produced a live offspring. But that was under very artifical conditions. However, hybridization is also known to occur in the wild. Recently in the north Atlantic a hybrid whale was discovered; it was born of a fin whale/blue whale cross. The mixed parentage was confirmed with an analysis of the whale's genetic makeup (DNA). No wonder we have trouble identifying whales at sea sometimes - they can't always tell themselves apart! --From Bob.
14) Lynn Ash asks, "How many common dolphins are left in the world?"
I can't answer this one because no one knows the whole answer. In general, it is very difficult to determine how many individuals of any species of whales and dolphins are left in the world because they are so difficult to count. Many live far out to sea and never come close to land. Many are deep divers and stay beneath the water surface for an hour or more. Some are shy and don't allow boats to come close. And all conduct most of their lives under the water; they come to the surface only for a very brief period to take a breath of air and then they dive again. Because it is important for us to have some idea how many of each species are left, we have developed techniques of surveying and counting animals and then extrapolating the data to give an estimate of total numbers. But most of these estimates are only our best guess. The common dolphin, as its name implies, seems to be "common" in that it is not presently in danger. Other species of whales, for example the northern right whale, are very endangered. There may be only several hundred animals of this species left in the world. Another is the Chineese river dolphin; there are probably less than one hundred of these left and it may be too late to save them. Because we don't want to lose any species of whales or dolphins, we continue to survey for them and improve our techniques for assessing the total population. --From Lisa
15) April Teeter asks "How can you tell the age of a whale?"
This is a question that scientists have been struggling with for a long time. It's easier to tell the age of a dolphin because they have teeth. If you cut a tooth into very thin sections and look at a section on a microscope, you can see layers and these layers correspond to the dolphin's age. Whales do not have teeth and so far, the best way we have to age them is to look at their ear plugs. Inside the ears, whales build up waxy deposits (just like you and I do) and the size of these deposits generally corresponds to the age of the whale. --From Lisa
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