Breaching humpback whale

A breaching humpback whale is a wonder to behold. There are many theories about why they do this, but no one knows for sure. (Whit Welles / CC BY 3.0)

Humpback whales are occasional visitors near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. If you took a time machine back 10 million to 14 million years ago, you would have regularly seen a variety of whale species in the Bay, which was a subtropical, shallow sea at that time. Now is the time to test your knowledge of whales. Answers are below.

1. Whales are a(n):

A. Amphibian

B. Fish

C. Mammal

D. Reptile

2. Which species is the whales’ closest living relative on land?

A. Elephant

B. Hippopotamus

C. Rhinoceros

D. Warthog

3. There are two types of whales: toothed whales, which capture prey with their teeth, and baleen whales, which capture and filter prey and plankton through large filters called…baleen. Baleen are strips that hang from a whale’s upper jaw, with brushlike bristles on one side that filter the food. Baleen are made from the same type of material as:

A. Bones

B. Fingernails

C. Skin

D. Tendons

4. All whales have blubber, a thick layer of fat just beneath their skin. What is the purpose of blubber?

A. It prevents whales’ internal organs from freezing in cold ocean water.

B. It helps whales, which are very heavy, float.

C. In many adult whales, blubber is too thick for predators to bite through.

D. It is a source of energy when sources of food are low.

E. All of the above.

5. A whale’s tail has two lobes, called flukes, which meet in a v-shaped notch. The tail helps the animal swim, but not in the same way that it helps fish. How is it different?

A. The tip of each fluke flaps in the opposite direction of the other.

B. The fluke moves up and down instead of side to side.

C. The fluke spins in circles like a propeller.

D. The fluke is only used for steering. Flippers make the whale move.

6. True or false? There are no bones in a whale’s flukes.

7. What is the purpose of a whale’s blowhole?

A. The whale uses it to releases the water it has swallowed after all of the fish and plankton have been filtered out.

B. The whale uses it to breathe.

C. The whale uses it to sing.

D. Both A & C.

8. How does a whale breathe when it is underwater?

A. It breathes through its gills.

B. It breathes through its mouth.

C. It has special air sacs in its throat.

D. It can’t breathe underwater and must hold its breath until it returns to the surface.

9. If a whale had ears that stuck out, they would make the animal less streamlined. In fact, their ears aren’t even open to the outside. But a whale’s sense of hearing is so keen that it allows the whale to keep track of its child, locate food, navigate and communicate with other whales in its pod. Where is this hearing structure located?

A. Blowhole

B. Flippers

C. Forehead

D. Jawbone



1. C; 2. B; 3. B; 4. E; 5. B; 6. True; 7. B; 8. D; 9. D

Kathleen Gaskell is the Bay Journal's copy and layout editor and author of the Chesapeake Challenge. Contact Kathleen at

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