This post is about a carpet sweeper. For information on “Are there Whales in the Great Lakes?” click here.
Science Friday had an interesting piece on the evolution of whale baleen for filter feeding. Baleen whales use these gigantic “mouth brushes” as sieves to filter out huge quantities of tiny animals (such as krill and plankton) from sea water. In a new study, Carlos Peredo descibes a fossil species of whale that had lost its teeth, but had not grown baleen. Like modern narwhals, this toothless & baleen-less whale probably used suction to eat fish and squid.
Brushes and suction are two strategies that we also use at the nature center for cleaning up crumbs and dirt after programs. Enter “the Blue Whale.”
Note: It’s not an actual whale. It is a carpet sweeper (with a picture of a Blue Whale taped to it) that lives in the cleaning closet. A device of rather antique design, it uses a series of bristles and rotating blades to pull particles off of the carpet and into its maw. It does not require electricity, but relies on the muscle-power of the operator. Our site operations director presented the staff with a couple of these contraptions after several vacuuming mishaps resulted in expensive repairs to the vacuum cleaner.
Like a baleen whale filtering krill from water, the brushes and repeated sweeping motions of the operator, gather up tiny particles from the industrial carpet surface. The operator can open up an internal compartment storing the dirt and crumbs, and then can dump the contents into the trash.
Because the resemblance of the sweeper brushes to whale baleen, one of the nature center staff members started playfully referring the carpet sweeper as “The Blue Whale.” (Coincidentally, it is also a lovely shade of navy blue.)
This nickname caught on, and now a critical mass of staff members are how referring to “Blue whaling” the carpet as perfunctory part of daily clean up operation. Understandably, kids and others who hear this name are somewhat confused.
“What do you call it a “Blue Whale?” they ask.
Since we are nature educators, we then launch into a whole long speech about how whales use baleen to filter their food out of the water. Science! Nature!
There is also a fun and unintended side effect of our branding: Kids love using the carpet sweeper. Not only is it extremely satisfying to watch the Blue Whale sweep up goldfish cracker crumbs and dirt clods, it is much more fun to sweep them up yourself. Like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence, kids find it irresistible and will wait their turn to use the Blue Whale to clean the carpet.
And now for our tangent:
Are there whales in the Great Lakes?
There are currently (as far as I know) no whales in the Great Lakes. You cannot go whale watching on any of the Great Lakes. There are no terrestrial (land-dwelling) whales in land surrounding the Great Lakes (with the exception of the aforementioned population of carpet sweepers.) For various reasons, saltwater-adapted marine mammals don’t seem to do very well for long periods in freshwater. Or on land.
The last time there may have been baleen whales living in the Great Lakes Region (albeit not exactly the Great Lakes) was about 13,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. The Champlain Sea was a temporary inlet of the Atlantic Ocean (saltwater). Fossils of whales have been found here, in what are now terrestrial (land) habitats.