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NPR Story
11:00 am
Fri December 7, 2012

Blue Whale Barrel Roll Caught On Camera

Transcript

FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: We're ending this hour into the sea, Ira. Could you tell?

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Ooh, yeah. I like it.

LICHTMAN: The noise you're hearing comes from a blue whale; that's an animal that can reach 90 feet in length, which is longer than a tennis court. Biologist...

JEREMY GOLDBOGEN: Hands down, these are largest animals of all time. And so one of the questions we're interested in is how do they sustain such an extreme body mass and why don't we see anything bigger than a blue whale?

LICHTMAN: That's biologist Jeremy Goldbogen.

FLATOW: And it's part of your Pick of the Week this week, right?

LICHTMAN: That's right.

FLATOW: Flora has got a...

LICHTMAN: Who could get through the week without a Pick of the Week?

(LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: And this is actually - this is actually riding on top of the video?

LICHTMAN: It's as if you're riding on top of a blue whale.

FLATOW: Wow.

LICHTMAN: I don't know what more there is to say. I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: ...you're riding on top of a blue whale and the amazing thing that Jeremy Goldbogen and his colleagues figured out by attaching this National Geographic Crittercam was that these blue whales do barrel rolls while they're eating. It's like the only animal to probably pair Big Gulps with acrobatic feeding.

FLATOW: Wow. Do they do it for fun or is this how they eat or they just...

LICHTMAN: Of course they don't know exactly. But they think maybe there is some advantage like you can swoop up and eat krill in a more efficient way if you angle yourself. But you have to see the barrel roll for yourself.

FLATOW: So they put a camera on the whale? Is that how it works?

LICHTMAN: They put a camera on the whale and they put these data tags. And they saw(ph) both on the camera; it's a little hard to make out that krill patch, you know. But there's not a lot to orient you, in other words. But you can see the whale like turning its head side to side. And then also these data tags, the krillorometers(ph), like the thing in your iPhone - when you turn it, it flips - that tell them exactly the orientation of the whale. So they have both.

FLATOW: It's up there in our Video Pick of the Week, up there at the SCIENCE FRIDAY website, also available - download on your iPad or Android. What does he do - how do you follow up, you know, doing the whales? Does he do this generally, he's a marine biologist?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. These are blue whales. You know, there are other fascinating ways that these whales feed. So humpback whales feed with making bubble (unintelligible) that was a prior Video Pick of the Week. So there's lots of other whales to look at. And then I've been trying to understand exactly why they do this. I mean, these whales are gulping in hundreds of thousands of pounds of water, like a swimming pool of water in a single gulp. It's just astounding.

FLATOW: Yeah, it is astounding. How do they get rid of all that salt? Topic for another discussion.

(LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: If you gulp in all that salt water - I think they have tear ducts or something and cry it out or whatever. Something like that.

LICHTMAN: We'll check - yeah. We'll check into it.

FLATOW: We'll check - thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: And that's about all the time we have for our program today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.