Hmm, not quite sure. I think the opportunity to study large animals in their natural environment where there has been little human encroachment may have a lot to do with it. These animals are doing exactly as they have done for millions of years and have, for the most part, been little affected by the major changes humans have made on land. Coming out on the open ocean is almost like seeing what the earth was like before humans got here, and it is a nice thing to see. --From Bob
22) Lindsey Eppelman and Jennifer Lonergan want to know, "Which whale is your favorite?"
Different species of whales are really different once you get to know them. For example, the largest whales, fin whales and blue whales are largely grazers; they are big and friendly but spend most of their time just eating, or traveling, sometimes you can watch some mating behavior. On the other hand, sperm whales and killer whales are very social animals, they are very intelligent and they have complicated interactions with each other. And when they hunt their behaviors are coordinated so that communication is important for them. These attributes all make them a lot more interesting for some people.
But the whales that intrigue me the most are the "beaked whales." These form a large group of small whales (15-20 feet long) about which almost nothing is known. They are very shy and almost never allow the ship to get close enough for a good look so that most of the time we can't even identify which species we are looking at. There are several species in this group that have never been identified alive because people don't even know what they look like. (New species of whales are usually described from specimens found dead on beaches and these specimens often include only skeletons or skulls. So it is possible to identify a new species of whale without really knowing what it looks like, and this has happened quite often in beaked whales.) So because these animals are rare and so little is known about them, they tend to be my favorites. --From Bob
23) Desmond Elkins asks "How fast can an Orca swim?"
Generally, Orca swim fairly slowly -around 3 to 5 miles an hour. They can swim faster for brief periods of time -- I have seen them swim 15 miles per hour, and they may be able to swim even faster. But they cannot maintain these high speeds for very long. This is probably one of the main reasons why they hunt in groups. It takes the coordination of several individuals to capture a dolphin that can swim much faster than they can. --From Lisa
24) Lisa Kalicharan wonders "Are you more likely to see whales during the day or night?"
We are more likely to see whales during the day, simply because we cannot observe them easily without the light of the sun. But whales come to the surface to breathe during the day and during the night. Because we can't see them, we know a lot less about what they do during the night but there are people that are beginning to study nighttime behavior of whales with night vision scopes. A colleague of ours is studying gray whales that migrate along the coast of California using such a device to see if the whales continue to travel during the night, or if they stop to rest. --From Lisa
25) Chris Bailey, you ask, "What happens to whales when they die?"
Some whales float at the surface for a while after they die. Over the years I have seen a few sperm whales and a blue whale once, just lying on their sides peaceably at the surface. They eventually sink to the bottom where most whales end up. There, scavengers such as crabs, fish and bacteria feast. It is interesting to think that the largest animal in the world, the blue whale, ends up starting all over again as the smallest of living things, bacteria. Some whales, very few actually, wash up on beaches after they die. This is fortunate for scientists because a lot of what we know about whales comes from examining stranded specimens. --From Bob
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