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There has long been an almost mystical connection between people and whales. This is only natural because of all the creatures in the sea, none are closer relatives to us than these warm-blooded mammals.

Experts put forward the theory that 60 million years ago, ancestors of modern whales were four-legged, wolf-sized animals living on the shores of estuaries and lagoons, where an abundance of fish and shrimp enticed them to try wading. Evolution started reshaping them. Over 10 to 15 million years, their bodies grew, forelegs shrank into flippers and hind legs disappeared. To propel themselves through water, whales grew tapered tails ending in horizontal, paddle-like flukes. The nose in most species moved to the top of the head and became separated from the mouth; whales could therefore feed without filling their lungs with seawater and breathe without sticking their heads up. The inside of the whales were restructured too. Therefore, they could feed and communicate entirely underwater while being utterly helpless on land. If stranded on a beach, they can hardly breathe.

Despite their size, these giants move at a good speed. A blue whale swimming at 15 knots generates 1,000 horsepower. Humpback whales can heave their 40-ton bodies completely out of the water. Superb streamlining is one reason for a whale's swiftness. The skin is another reason. It is loose and lubricated, with ridges induced by rapid swimming, all of which help the leviathans slip through the seas with little significant drag.

A whale can eat up to 9,000 pounds of food a day. The type of whale known as toothed (like Moby Dick) lives on fish and squid. The baleen strains its food. After engulfing enough water to fill a dining room, the baleen whale spits it out through a sieve of bony plates dangling from its upper jaw. The world's biggest creature feeds itself almost entirely on shrimp-like krill smaller than a person's thumb.

The humpback whales have devised the most ingenious feeding technique - bubble netting. Rapidly circling under a school of fish, it forces bursts of air through its blowholes, creating a rising spiral of bubbles that corrals the fish. Seconds later, the whale bursts up through the centre, gulping several hundreds of fish at once.

Even though they live in the same element, whales do not behave like fish. In fact, many people think whales represent the best of human behavior. Many whales exhibit strong family ties. The young remain with their parents for up to fifteen years or more. Like reindeer and other nomadic land mammals, such migrating species as humpbacks and grey whales live in herds, or pods, and travel seasonally between feeding and breeding grounds.

In times of stress, whales look after one another. During migration, a group travels at the speed of the slowest baby. When a member is wounded or sick, the others refuse to abandon it. They may cradle it between them or support it on their backs so it can breathe. Such care giving behavior has often led to their downfall. A whole loyal group could easily be picked off by whalers.

A whale's urge for companionship can be irresistible. If two surface within a thousand feet, they often sidle up to each other during their few minutes at the surface. Maternal instincts are also highly developed. When a calf is born underwater, the mother must get it to the surface before it drowns. Often another whale will help. The mother nudges it gently until the baby is confident with its swimming - usually after about 30 minutes. If the calf is stillborn, she may support it on her back until it literally rots away. Like all mammals, whale babies feed on mother's milk. But whales have to devise a system for delivering milk to a baby that cannot stay submerged for long. They squirt the milk directly into the baby's mouth - 130 gallons a day in blue whales. The milk is more than 30 percent fat, over ten percent protein and the babies grow extremely fast. A blue whale calf lengthens by two inches a day and gains an average of seven pounds per hour. Mother whales have been seen fondling their babies. Their flippers are used like hands to clasp, coax and discipline.

Whales are generally gentle, unflappable and have tremendous self-control. They do not harm human beings unless they are provoked. Although misunderstood by humans at times, whales have no trouble communicating with their own kind. Their snores, groans and clicks are used to identify the sexes and keep pods in contact. A family spread out over several square miles almost certainly knows where everyone is. Whales have loud voice. A blue whale can bellow as loud as an elephant. The best talkers are humpbacks. These frisky, free spirits sing hauntingly beautiful songs for up to 22 hours at a time; seemingly just for the joy of it, though probably to attract a mate. All the whales in one area sing the same song, but they cannot stop tinkering with it. So every few years their tune completely changes. In 1985, the Soviets used sound to rescue some 3,000 belugas. They had cleared an escape path, but the confused animals, frightened by the noise of engines and propellers, refused to leave. Then, the ship began piping music through loudspeakers - military, folk, jazz and rock. It was when they heard the strain of Beethoven that the whales began to follow, swimming through the narrow channel to freedom.

   
Answer the following questions using complete sentences
  1.

From paragraph 1, what is the mystical connection between people and whales ?

From paragraph 2, what lured them into the sea ?

  2.

From paragraph 3, what are the reasons for the whale's swiftness ?

  3.

From paragraph 7, give two reasons why whales are easy prey to whalers.

  4.

From paragraph 8, the writer mentions that ' ... Maternal instincts are also highly developed'. Give two evidences.

  5.

In your own words, explain how the Soviets used sound to rescue 3,000 belugas.

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Answers
 

1.

a) It was believed that long ago, whales were four-legged, wolf-sized animals.

b) There was an abundance of fish and shrimp.

 

2.

Superb streamlining and its skin which is loose and lubricated help the whale to swim swiftly.

 

3.

i) When they are in trouble, they do not abandon one another.

ii) They support each other on their backs.

 

4.

i) When a calf is born underwater, the mother brings it to the surface for air.

ii) The mother squirts the milk directly into the baby's mouth.

 

5.

The belugas refused to leave as they were frightened by the engines. then, the ship used loudspeakers. The whales finally swam through the channel when they heard Beethoven's music.

 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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