Cetaceans Frequently Asked Questions

What are the largest whales in the world?
Blue whales are the largest whales, they can be more than 100 feet long (30 m) and upwards of 200 tons (181,436 kg).  Their tongues weight as much as an elephant.

How big is a blue whale’s heart?
Its heart weighs 1300 pounds (600 kg). The heart can be compared to a small car. It pumps up to 187 gallons (708 l) of blood.

What are baby whales called ?
They are called calves.

How many teeth do toothed whales (odontocetes) have ?
It depends on the species. For example, most male beaked whales have 2, unlike the females who have none. Dolphins may have 80-100 teeth.

What whale species has the longest tooth?
Narwhals have the longest tooth, up to 7-10 ft (2.1 – 3 m) long.

How long can a sperm whale stay underwater?
Up to 90 minutes but on average it is 20 minutes.

Can a whale swallow a human?
Only one species, the sperm whale, may be able to because their throat is large enough to swallow a person.

What type of whale was Moby Dick?
An albino sperm whale.

What is Ambergris?
A wax like substance that originates as a secretion in the intestine of a sperm whale, as a reaction to the undigested beaks of squids they have eaten. A protein can be extracted from it to be used in the manufacture of perfume.

Do whales have a sense of smell?
Toothed whales, including dolphins and porpoises, do not have the portion of the brain that controls smell. It is possible that baleen whales have a sense of smell.

What is the proper name for whale lice?
They are called cyamids.

Do whales have hair?
Dolphins and other whales have hair when they’re fetuses and it exists even after they’re born. Some whales have chin whiskers through their whole life.

What whales are being hunted commercially?
Fin, minke, Bryde’s,  sei, humpback and sperm whales.  Norway and Iceland are the only two countries that hunt whales commercially.

What is baleen?
A strong, yet flexible material made out of keratin, a protein that is the same material makes up our hair, fingernails and toenails.

How many blowholes does a whale have?
Baleen whales have two blowholes; toothed whales have only one blowhole.

What is a whale’s tail called?
The whale’s tail divides into two parts called flukes.

Where is the melon?
It is basically the forehead of all toothed whales and serves to focus and amplify sounds of communication. It sits on top of the skull, in front of the eyes.

What is echolocation?
Echolocation is the process of using sound to hunt and to navigate. Toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises create intense, high-frequency sounds in their heads, send it out through their ‘melons’ (or the over-sized ‘case’ if it’s a sperm whale), receive the sound through their lower jaws before it goes to their ears and is finally processed by the brain. If they are hunting, they do this as often as is needed to get close to their food before catching it and swallowing it whole. This adaptation makes it possible for them to find food in the dark waters of the ocean.

Are Cetaceans intelligent?
Most scientist agree that intelligent animals should exhibit a awareness of self, a capacity for language, creativity, memory, and the ability to reason and solve abstract problems. Cetaceans, particularly dolphins, are able to imitate and sounds and behaviors, learn rules for solving abstract problems, create sentences and solve simple mathematical problems. Dolphins, sperm whales, orcas and humpback exhibit cultural attributes and language capabilities. Dolphins have demonstrated behaviors that suggest an awareness of self, such as recognizing themselves in a mirror. Are cetaceans intelligent? The evidence seems to tell us they are.

FAQ above prepared by 2014 apprentice: Genesis Vazquez, FAQ below prepared by 2014 apprentice: Reymond Calderon Latimer

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, Southern Bottlenose whale, several beaked whales (Baird's, Andrews', Hubbs', Ginkgo-toothed, Longman's, Lesser and Stejneger's). Dolphin exceptions are the Northern Right Whale, Indo-Pacific Hump-backed, Black, Hector's, Fraser's, Pacific White-sided, Irrawaddy and the rare river dolphins.

How many kinds of whales are there?
According to the Society for Marine Mammalogy there are 14 recognized species of baleen whales and 72 species of toothed whales.

What are some of the estimated pre-whaling populations of whales?
Blue Whale: 160,000-240,000
Humpback whale: 150,000
Sperm whale: 1,000,000

At birth a blue whale calf weighs 3 tons. Feeding only on its mother milk, at what rate does it grow?
Gaining nine pounds an hour, or about 200 pounds a day, a blue whale can grow to weigh as much as 200 tons as an adult.

What is the average size at birth of a blue whale?
At birth blue whales averages 25 feet (8m) and weight about 3 tons (2721 kg).

How much krill can a blue whale consume a day?
They can consume 4 tons per day, equal to approximately 40 million krill.

About how high can the blue whale’s spray reach?
The exhale of an adult blue whale can reach up to 30 feet (9 m).

Do sperm whales battle with giant squids?
Yes, they also battle with colossal and other large squid species. The sperm whales usually win.

How long can a sperm whale stay under water?

Sperm whales are excellent divers. They can dive at least 5,000 feet (1.5 km) and can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes

Why humpback whales are called “Humpback”?
Humpback whales actually have a hump on their back.

What are the two bones near the base of the whale’s tail?

illustration of whale skeleton

They are vestigial pelvic bones, a hint to their land-based ancestors.

How do whales protect themselves?
Great whales have their large size and a thick layer of fat to help protect them from enemies. Most baleen whales are also very fast, and they use their powerful tails and fins to swipe at an enemy.  A Beluga whale can toss a killer whale high into the air with its powerful tail.

Is whaling illegal?
Commercial whaling is illegal in most countries. Members of the International Whaling Commission voted to stop whaling in 1982. This vote went into effect in 1986. Iceland and Norway still hunt whales in defiance of the IWC vote. Japan conducts ‘scientific whaling’. Some native peoples, such as the Inupiat on the North Slope of Alaska, conduct subsistence whaling.

The United States passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, thus ending commercial whaling in the U.S. ten years before the International Whaling Commission vote. Additional protection came in 1973 when the U.S. passed the Endangered Species Act.

Which whale migrates the longest?
Humpback whales have the longest migrations, with the longest being from Brazil to Madagascar. A lone female humpback whale travelled more than 6,000 miles (9,800 km) from breeding areas in Brazil to those in Madagascar, This is the longest mammal migration ever documented.

Do whales have a bellybutton?
Yes, since whales are mammals, they have a belly button.

Do whales sleep?
Whales have to be conscious to breathe. 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.

Can you sit on top of a whale’s blow hole?
No, because of the pressure and the heat will probably affect your skin.

Do whales have any natural enemies?
Large whale species do not have many enemies. Killer whales are often the only predators faced by these whales. Sharks may prey on the calves of some whale species. Killer whales and human activity are the main enemies of whales.

How do well do cetaceans see?
Although these animals mostly use hearing to understand their surrounding, they do have good eyesight. Their eyes have the ability to see in dim light, which is important below the surface of the ocean. They can also see well when they poke their heads above the surface to look around (spy hop). Since their eyes are not the side of their heads, the larger species do not have binocular vision. They have to angle their heads to see what is directly in front of them.

Can Whales Hear?
The short answer is yes. However, sound moves differently in water than in the air so cetaceans need to have a different system than we do to detect and isolate sound waves in the water. They have no outer ears but their middle and inner ears rest outside the skull and are protected by a specialized bone called a bulla. Our middle and inner ears are protected inside the skull. Cetaceans hear over a wider range of frequencies than we can.

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Last Modified: June 26, 2014