Physics Colloquium, "Front and center: physics and the large size of whales"

Presented by: Jean Potvin, Saint Louis University

Abstract: Large baleen whales such as the humpback and blue whales have become the shining stars of a great number of popular nature documentaries. Paradoxically, much of their physiology remains poorly understood. Generally one must look into a complex web of relationships between morphology, physiology, ecology and bio-mechanics to explain the whys and hows of, for example, body architecture. In this presentation I show that the blue whales and their baleen-bearing cousins represent shining examples of the central role played by physics in shaping their evolution into the largest and most massive life forms to have ever lived on Earth. The peculiarities of their feeding strategies permit the use of simple formulations of the work-energy and momentum conservation principles to estimate swimming metabolic energetic expenditures over size and demonstrate how body gigantism can not only become an advantage but also a disadvantage. This presentation will also show the results of an ongoing NSF-funded and inter-disciplinary study aimed at collecting kinematic and video data on humpback and blue whales foraging off the coast of California, with the goals of further understanding their feeding behavior as well as providing data for physical modeling validation.


Coffee, tea, and cookies will be available starting at 3:45 p.m., in DUAN G1B31.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at 4:00pm to 5:00pm

Duane Physics and Astrophysics, G1B20
2000 Colorado Avenue, Boulder, CO 80309

Event Type



Science & Technology


Students, Faculty, Graduate Students, Postdoc

College, School & Unit

Engineering & Applied Science, Arts & Sciences


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