Baleen whales eat — and poop — a lot more than we thought

average: (in science) A term for the arithmetic mean, which is the sum of a group of numbers that is then divided by the size of the group.

baleen: A long plate made of keratin (the same material as your fingernails or hair). Baleen whales have many plates of baleen in their mouths instead of teeth. To feed, a baleen whale swims with its mouth open, collecting plankton-filled water. Then it pushes water out with its enormous tongue. Plankton in the water become trapped in the baleen, and the whale then swallows the tiny floating animals.

biologist: A scientist involved in the study of living things.

bloom: (in biology) The rapid and largely uncontrolled growth of a species, such as algae in waterways enriched with nutrients.

blue whale: A species of baleen whale (Balaenoptera musculus) that is the largest animal ever known to have existed. They can grow to lengths of 30 meters (almost 100 feet) and weigh up to 170 metric tons.

calorie: The amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. It is typically used as a measurement of the energy contained in some defined amount of food. The exception: when referring to the energy in food, the convention is to call a kilocalorie, or 1,000 of these calories, a “calorie.” Here, a food calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree C.

carbon: A chemical element that is the physical basis of all life on Earth. Carbon exists freely as graphite and diamond. It is an important part of coal, limestone and petroleum, and is capable of self-bonding, chemically, to form an enormous number of chemically, biologically and commercially important molecules. (in climate studies) The term carbon sometimes will be used almost interchangeably with carbon dioxide to connote the potential impacts that some action, product, policy or process may have on long-term atmospheric warming.

climate: The weather conditions that typically exist in one area, in general, or over a long period.

climate change: Long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen naturally or in response to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.

colleague: Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.

crustaceans: Hard-shelled water-dwelling animals including lobsters, crabs and shrimp.

density: The measure of how condensed some object is, found by dividing its mass by its volume.

diet: (n.) The foods and liquids ingested by an animal to provide the nutrition it needs to grow and maintain health.

ecologist: A scientist who works in a branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

ecosystem: A group of interacting living organisms — including microorganisms, plants and animals — and their physical environment within a particular climate. Examples include tropical reefs, rainforests, alpine meadows and polar tundra. The term can also be applied to elements that make up some an artificial environment, such as a company, classroom or the internet.

factor: Something that plays a role in a particular condition or event; a contributor.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada: A department of the federal government with responsibility for managing the health of Canada’s fisheries, oceans and freshwater resources (lakes and rivers). In addition to running the Canadian Coast Guard, it also conducts research across 17 institutes, laboratories and centers.

food web: (also known as a food chain) The network of relationships among organisms sharing an ecosystem. Member organisms depend on others within this network as a source of food.

humpback: A species of baleen whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), perhaps best known for its novel “songs” that travel great distances underwater. Huge animals, they can grow up to more than 15 meters (or around 50 feet) long and weigh more than 35 metric tons.

invertebrate: An animal lacking a backbone. About 90 percent of animal species are invertebrates.

iron: A metallic element that is common within minerals in Earth’s crust and in its hot core. This metal also is found in cosmic dust and in many meteorites.

krill: Tiny shrimplike crustaceans that live in the ocean and are the main food source of some whales.

marine biologist: A scientist who studies creatures that live in ocean water, from bacteria and shellfish to kelp and whales.

nutrient: A vitamin, mineral, fat, carbohydrate or protein that a plant, animal or other organism requires as part of its food in order to survive.

Pacific: The largest of the world’s five oceans. It separates Asia and Australia to the west from North and South America to the east.

phytoplankton: Sometimes referred to as microalgae, these are microscopic plants and plant-like organisms that live in the ocean. Most float and reside in regions where sunlight filters down. Much like land-based plants, these organisms contain chlorophyll. They also require sunlight to live and grow. Phytoplankton serve as a base of the oceanic food web.

population: (in biology) A group of individuals from the same species that lives in the same area.

prey: (n.) Animal species eaten by others. (v.) To attack and eat another species.

sea: An ocean (or region that is part of an ocean). Unlike lakes and streams, seawater — or ocean water — is salty.

sensor: A device that picks up information on physical or chemical conditions — such as temperature, barometric pressure, salinity, humidity, pH, light intensity or radiation — and stores or broadcasts that information. Scientists and engineers often rely on sensors to inform them of conditions that may change over time or that exist far from where a researcher can measure them directly.

sonar: A system for the detection of objects and for measuring the depth of water. It works by emitting sound pulses and measuring how long it takes the echoes to return.

species: A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

system: A network of parts that together work to achieve some function. For instance, the blood, vessels and heart are primary components of the human body’s circulatory system. Similarly, trains, platforms, tracks, roadway signals and overpasses are among the potential components of a nation’s railway system. System can even be applied to the processes or ideas that are part of some method or ordered set of procedures for getting a task done.

technology: The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry — or the devices, processes and systems that result from those efforts.

whale: A common, but fairly imprecise, term for a class of large mammals that lives in the ocean. This group includes dolphins and porpoises.

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