Come hear a whale of a tale at Café Scientifique

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on January 12, 2010

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If you’re a humpback whale and want to get fed, you’ve learned to sing for your supper – as well as corral your prey with bubbles – before going in for the kill. These are just a few of the things you’ll learn more about tonight when Dr. Fred Sharpe, Executive Director and Principal Investigator of the Alaska Whale Foundation, speaks at the monthly gathering of Café Scientifique.  The event, which is open to all and free of charge, is held in the International Building at SRI International from 6:00 to 7:30 pm. (Note: doors open at 5:15 and are closed when capacity is reached.)

Sharpe has been conducting research on the humpback whales that inhabit the Pacific Coast since the mid-1980s. These “local” whales exhibit unique behavior which, according to the AWF website, includes “the production of loud, trumpet-like feeding calls that are apparently used to herd schooling fishes such as the Pacific herring.”  The whales also deploy large bubble nets around fish schools or krill swarms.

“The prey is then devoured in a spectacular communal lunge as the whales come rocketing up through the center of the bubble net, ” explains AWF.  “Up to two dozen whales may take part in these lunging events, which turn the surface of the water into a boiling cauldron of bubbles, baleen, and bait fishes.”

Through his work with whales, Sharpe has also become an expert at disentangling whales from fishing gear and other man made apparatus. AWF is noted for its conservation work as well as its research and has one of the most experienced disentanglement teams on the West Coast.

Café Scientifique meets monthly in Menlo Park to discuss and debate a variety of science topics and issues.

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