1. Do whales sleep? Not the way we do. Because breathing is a conscious act for whales, they cannot sleep for very long periods, and they need to move up and down to the surface, keep moving to prevent stranding and watch for potential dangers, so they do not fall deeply asleep. They must rest, but they require very little sleep. Evidence suggests that whales require less sleep because the marine environment induces a brain state that resembles sleep. Even humans who spend a lot of time in the water, require less sleep. Whale relatives, dolphins and porpoises are able to “sleep” half their brain at a time.
2. What do whales drink? They don’t drink anything except some sea water that they may swallow with their food. To flush away the extra salt in the diets, whales need water believed to come from the metabolism or “burning” of fats. 3. How can whales dive to such great depths and not get the bends? Bends occur when we ascend too rapidly. Nitrogen gas (78% of air) is more soluble in blood and fluids at high pressure. When pressure decreases, dissolved nitrogen comes out of solution forming bubbles that can cause severe pain and even death. When a whale dives, it causes it lungs to collapse by expelling all air. They also prevent the bends by their efficient and rapid transport of nitrogen back into the lungs as the whale surfaces. Further, nitrogen is much more soluble in the oily fluid. 4. How can whales stay underwater for such a long time? Whale meat is very dark because it is rich in myoglobin, the compound in red blood cells that carry oxygen from our lungs to cells. It can store oxygen. This oxygen stored in muscle cells supplies the extra oxygen needed. Also, during a dive, whales can slow their heat rate to one beat per minute and send oxygen and blood to the brain, heart and other vital organs. Sperm whales can dive to 3000 feet and stay underwater of two hours. 5. How did whales evolve to live in the sea? Whales are related to land animals like cattle, pigs and hippopotamuses. They have common ancestors from millions of years ago that are unlike present day groups. In 2000, paleonologist found fossils of early whales in Pakistan with ankle bones – whales with feet. The shape of these bones confirmed a link with ungulates, a group that includes cows and deer, and the whale’s closest living relative: the hippopotamus. Whales, like all other mammals, breathe air and nurse their young. The first ancestor of whales, known through fossil finds in Egypt, is likely a 53 million-year-old amphibious, dolphin-sized, toothed mammal that had hind legs with webbed feet for swimming in the now-vanished Tethys Sea (it was closed by continental drift). Around 34 million years ago, evolution produced the baleen whale. By about 7 million years ago the major forms of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) that we recognize today had evolved. During evolution, the nostrils slowly migrated to the top of the head to become the blowhole, forelimbs converted to flippers, their hind legs disappeared, they developed insulating blubber layers and grew to great size. 6. How do whales breathe? A whale cannot breathe through its mouth. They inhale and exhale exclusively through their blowhole. The blowhole is designed for rapid air exchange and it is the result of an evolutionary change in skull shape and a slow migration of the nostrils and breathing passage to the top of the head – away from the throat. Breathing is voluntary and they open and close their blowholes at will. The baleen whales have two blowholes (toothed whales have only one blowhole) that are controlled by strong muscles attached to the upper jaw. When they surface, they make an explosive blow and inhale in such quick succession that the entire process takes only a few seconds. The blow of a whale is visible because of a combination of factors. The difference in temperature between the whale’s lungs and the outside air, some seawater from the surface of the animal’s skin and accumulated droplets of mucus and oils from the whale’s lungs and nasal passages, all contribute to the blows. 7. Why do whales breach? When a whale rises out of the water and splashes back, it’s called breaching. It’s thought to be the most powerful physical at by any animal, equivalent to lifting hundreds of people at once. The breach is the great explosion of energy, the behavioral “look-at-me”, the money shot for watchers, extravagant proof of whales’ power. Why they do it is not clear. They may enjoy it. It may rid the body of barnacle and parasites. We like to think they are just having some fun. 8. How do whales communicate? All baleen whales make sounds. The Blue Whale makes the most powerful sound in the animal kingdom. Researchers use hydrophones (special underwater microphones) to listen and track the whales. The primary sounds they hear are low in frequency - below 5000 Hz. Moans, grunts and thumps occupy the frequency range of 20-200 Hz; Chirps, and whistles occur above 1000 Hz. Gray whales are less vocal than their Humpback cousins which are known for their intricate songs. But, there is evidence that Grays use sound for both communications and navigation. Mothers and calves communicate in the murky lagoons using trill calls. While there is no evidence that baleen whales produce echo-location sounds (high frequency clicks) to locate food in the same way as toothed whales and dolphins, there are anecdotal reports that they can navigate around small objects - such as a scuba diver - using mid frequency sounds. 9. How do Killer Whales make sound? Toothed whales such as Orcas do not have vocal cords. Sounds are produced when air is forced through various structures in the nasal passage. Sound leaves the head through the fatty melon, which acts like an acoustic lens and focuses the sound into a beam. 10. How do Killer Whales hear? Killer whales have tiny external ears that are sealed and do not function in hearing. Sounds are received through the hollow lower jaw. They are picked up by the fatty tissue within the jaw and transmitted to the middle and inner ears. 11. What is echolocation? Toothed whales and dolphins send out sound waves which hit solid objects and send back an echo. They use the echos of sound to help locate their food, navigate and avoid hitting rocks or other hazards. The whales make high frequency clicks. 12. What is the difference between dolphins and porpoises? Dolphins have smooth skull with beak, pointed teeth and curved dorsal fin. Porpoises have a bump on their skull in front of the blowhole and no beak, spade-like teeth and triangular dorsal fin. 13. What ever happened to Keiko, the animal star in Free Willy? Netted in Iceland in 1979, first sold to Marineland, Ontario, then later sold to Reino Aventura in Mexico City where it performed alone in a small, warm pool. Warner Brothers paid a fee of $80,000 USD to Reino Aventura for the use of Keiko in Free Willy (the movie’s worldwide revenue was around $153 million). When film-makers found Keiko, the whale was sick after seven years of swimming around a tank that was shallower than he was long. He had a chronic rash, was underweight, listless and weak. Shortly after the movie, the Free Willy Foundation was set up by the Earth Island Institute to collect donations to purchase Keiko (freeing Keiko cost around $20 million USD and years of work). The foundation built a rehabilitation tank in Newport, Oregon and relocated the whale there in 1996. In Oregon, the rash went away, Keiko put on nearly a ton of weight, he was retaught to catch and eat live fish and had less contact with people. In 1998, Keiko was flown to Iceland where he was kept in a sea pen in a bay until his release four years later when he was able to forage for himself. Soon after his release into the open ocean, Keiko took off from Iceland and headed to a fjord in Norway where he was drawn to boats with children and became a tourist attraction until his death in December 2003 from pneumonia. His body was brought ashore and buried near the beach. Local people held a memorial service on New Years Day.