Whales Chasing Tail

I had a little bit of free time from the lab yesterday and got to sit in on a lecture Dr. Allen Schoenherr gave about whales and other marine mammals. It was a fun and fascinating talk, and it gave me some things to look for on the rest of the voyage. As luck would have it, shortly after Allen’s talk a couple of humpback whales were spotted surfacing and breaching off the starboard bow. Shannon and I missed seeing them, but we’ll definitely be on the lookout during the rest of the trip.

Allen says we’re also likely to see a pod of spinner dolphins at some point during the voyage. Apparently, they enjoy surfing and jumping in the wake of the ship, and the Explorer rarely sails the Caribbean without at least one encounter. Spinner dolphins get their name from their habit of spinning around and around as they swim and leap out of the water. No one knows for sure why they spin, but Allen thinks it might just be because it’s fun.

I also learned a few fun facts about other whale species. The sperm and gray whales were the most interesting to me:

  • Sperm whales make a clicking sound that is the loudest sound produced by any animal. The molecules of the ocean are so compressed at bottom of the whale’s dives that the very loud click actually temporarily paralyzes squid and other deep sea creatures, making them easy pickings for a hungry whale.
  • Sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal.
  • Sperm whales have a waxy substance called spermaceti in their snouts. When they start to deep dive, the spermaceti cools and compresses, giving them a negative buoyancy and allowing them to take a nap on the way down.
  • Gray whales always have a menage a trois during reproduction where one male holds the female and the other male gets down to business…ooh la la.
  • Who knew that academic lectures could get so racy?

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