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Super Spout: What Is In a Whale’s Spout?

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Author: Janice VanCleave

Problem

What is in a whales's spout?

Materials

  • Hand mirror
  • Freezer
  • Paper towel

Procedure

  1. Place the hand mirror in the freezer for five minutes.
  2. Open the freezer, and observe any fog forming in front of the freezer.
  3. Remove the mirror from the freezer.
  4. Wipe the mirror with the dry paper towel.
  5. Hold the mirror about 2 inches (5 cm) from your mouth.
  6. Breathe onto the mirror.
  7. Observe the surface of the mirror.

Results

The mirror becomes fogged with tiny droplets of water.

Why?

Air in lungs is warm and moist. When it hits the cooler mirror surface, the moisture in your exhaled breath condenses (changes from a gas to a liquid). The wisps of fog forming in the warm air in front of the open freezer• or your smoky -looking breath outside on a cold day are both a result of condensation. The cooling of warm, moist air changes the water from a gas to a liquid. When small amounts of warm moist air are cooled, small droplets of water are formed. A whale's body cavity acts as a giant air-storage tank. The condensing of such large amounts of warm, moist air upon exhaling results in a spout that looks like a geyser. The spray from the whale is a mixture of water and air.

Super Spout

Super Spout

Super Spout

Let's Explore

  1. Would making the mirror colder affect the results? Repeat the experiment, but leave the mirror in the freezer for a longer period of time.
  2. What effect would warming the mirror have on the results? Repeat the experiment warming the mirror in sunlight.

Show Time!

  1. What causes the whale's spout to shoot so far into the air? Whales dive far below the water's surface. The weight of the water on the whale causes the air inside its body to compress, or get pushed into a small space. When the whale quickly surfaces and exhales, the gases expand and are pushed out with a great force. A spout of air and water shoots upward from the hole in the whale's head to about 50 feet (15 m). This can be demonstrated by spraying some of the contents of a spray bottle filled with water into the air. Squeezing the handle pushes the water out with a great force in the same way that the air shoots from inside the whale's body. Diagrams showing the spray bottle and a whale's spout can be used as part of a science project display.
  2. A whale can exhale as much as 2000 quarts (2000 liters) of air. How many quarts (liters) can a human exhale? A gallon plastic milk jug holds 4 quarts (4 liters). Use this jug to measure the amount of air that you can exhale. Fill the jug with water and turn it upside down into a pan of water. With the assistance of a helper, place a clean aquarium tube inside the mouth of the jug. Take a normal breath, and then exhale through the tube. Pour the water left in the jug into a measuring cup to determine the amount of air that you exhaled. You could use a picture gram showing the number of quarts exhaled by different animals as a display.
  3. The lungs of frogs are not very efficient. The frog's mouth acts as a bellows to pump air in and out of its lungs. Demonstrate this by exhaling and inhaling into a balloon. Diagrams of the change in the balloon's size as you exhale and inhale can be displayed and compared to changes in a frog's lungs.

Super Spout

Check It Out!

Respiration involves the exchanges of gases. Oxygen is the gas that enters the body cells, and carbon dioxide is the gas that leaves the cells. In animals with lungs, this gas exchange takes place in the lungs. Find out how the gas exchange take place in creatures without lungs, such as earthworms.

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