A Whale of a Whale Quiz

A pair of humpback whales at sunset off the coast of New England

A pair of humpback whales at sunset off the coast of New England

Whales are in the news these days, so we thought we’d brush up on our whale facts with a quiz. Are you ready? Scroll down for answers.

1. Last week, 35-40 short-finned pilot whales found themselves stranded on Florida Everglades National Park. This species of whale is very social and if one whale is beached the others will not willingly leave it behind, even though they cannot survive in the shallow waters of the Everglades. Eleven of the whales did not survive. Scientists say it may take along time to sift through the forensic evidence from the dead whales to figure out how they managed to get stranded in the remote and shallow section (the water is about 3 feet deep) of the park. What do you think National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff finally did to get the whales to head for deeper waters?

  • A)    Rev their boat engines and make loud banging noises to drive them out of the shallows.
  • B)    Position their boats in such a way that, once the whales began to move, they had no choice but to head out to sea.
  • C)    Capture and carefully guide one whale as a way of leading the rest of them out to sea.
  • D)   Lure them out to sea with a trail of food.

2. In November, a beached sperm whale exploded in the Faroe Islands. What happened?

  • A)    The whale was so large that the locals exploded it with dynamite as a way of getting the rotting creature off the beach.
  • B)    The whale had ingested an underwater land mine, which detonated after its body began to decompose on shore.
  • C)    A marine biologist who was cutting part the whale’s carcass as a way of disposing of it hit a gas pocket that had been created by the dead fish in the whale’s belly.

3. True or false? Whales typically do not feed while they are migrating.

4. Which of these whale history facts is NOT true?

  • A)    People have hunted whales but whales have never preyed on other whales.
  • B)    One of the oldest and largest species of whales was the Basilosaurus, which translates as “king lizard.” Even though it was later verified that this species was not a reptile but a marine mammal, taxonomic rules prevented scientists from changing the name.
  • C)    The earliest prehistoric creatures from which modern whales evolved were actually terrestrial mammals, like the Pakicetus, which lived 50 million years ago and had four legs and floppy ears like a dog’s.
  • D)   There is a species of whale named after Moby Dick author Herman Melville, called Leviathan melvillei.

5. True or false? The Orca, or “killer whale,” is actually a species of dolphin.

6. Humpback and Blue whales both produce whale songs. Which of the following facts about humpback whales songs is NOT true?

  • A)    Both males and females sing, but only the male songs are known to be organized because they are designed to attract mates.
  • B)    Once a whale develops its own song, it stays the same throughout its lifetime.
  • C)    Whales cannot sing above the water; they need the water to transmit the vibrations that make up the song.
  • D)   A whale song can last anywhere from a few seconds up to 30 minutes.
Whale tail.

Whale tail.

7. Blue whale calves are some of the world’s biggest creatures on the day they are born. About how much does a newborn Blue Whale calf weigh?

  • A)    500 pounds
  • B)    750 pounds
  • C)    1000 pounds
  • D)   1 ton (2000) pounds
  • E)    3 tons (6000) pounds

8. Blue whales are among the oldest creatures on Earth, with an average lifespan of 80-90 years. How do scientists determine the age of a blue whale?

  • A)    From the numbers and condition of their baleen – the fringe in their mouths through which they filter the krill they eat.
  • B)    By counting the layers of their wax-like earplugs.
  • C)    From the types of microorganisms that are found on the outsides of their bellies.
  • D)   By counting the indentations on their tails.



1. B) NOAA staff were ready to try getting their attention by making a racket, but awoke one morning to find that just strategically positioning their boats was all the whales needed to be guided to safety.

2. C) The unlucky marine biologist hit a gas pocket, causing the sperm whale’s belly to explode. If you click on the link, the video is really cool but very gross. But for the record, in Oregon in 1970, locals did blow up a whale with dynamite to get it off the beach.

3. True. Most whales have the capacity to store enough energy during the migration from one feeding ground to the next that they don’t need to snack between meals.

4. A) While modern species of whales do not prey on one another, the Leviathan melvillei (which was indeed named after the famous author) had a huge jaw and interlocking teeth that indicate that its main food source was other whales.

5. True.

6. B) Whale songs change and evolve over time. Still, there are similarities among the whales – the song may keep changing, but every whale in the North Pacific sings virtually the same song. Whales in separate oceans have different songs, but those in the same ocean share the same song. Even though the whales themselves are thousands of miles apart, the songs change in the same way.

7. A) 3 tons – and then it gains 200 pounds every day for its first year.

8. B) By counting the layers of wax in their earplugs.



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