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ALL ABOUT WHALES!
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Whale Glossary
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U-Z

Click on an underlined word for more information on that subject.

P


Pack ice

Pack ice is large blocks of ice on the surface of the ocean, usually in polar regions. They form when an ice field is broken up by strong waves and wind.

Pakicetus

Pakicetus is an early fossil whale with a pointed snout; it was found in Pakistan. It was about 6 ft (1.8 m) long. Pakicetus had pointed teeth like Mesonychid and a pinched brain case like Ambulocetus, had a water-adapted inner ear but still had four limbs (probably paddle-shaped) and may have spent part of its life on land. Pakicetus had nostrils located at the front of head, and no blowhole. This whale dates from the early Eocene (about 54 million years ago).


Paleontology

Paleontology is the branch of biology that studies the forms of life that existed in former geologic periods, chiefly by studying fossils.


Paleontologist

A paleontologist is a scientist who studies paleontology, the forms of life that existed in former geologic periods, chiefly by studying fossils.
Paleozoic Era
The Paleozoic Era (540 to 245 million years ago) saw an explosion of new life forms. It ended with the largest mass extinction in history and was followed by the Mesozoic Era.

Pangaea

Pangaea was a supercontinent consisting of all of Earth's land masses. It existed during the Permian and Jurassic periods. It began breaking up during the Jurassic, forming Gondwanaland and Laurasia.

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin

Also known as the Spotted, White-Spotted, or Brindled Dolphin, this small, toothed whale lives in tropical waters worldwide. This cetacean has a long, beaklike snout, a falcate (sickle-shaped) dorsal fin, and conical teeth. Classification: Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales), family Delphinidae, Genus Stenella, Species attenuata.

Parasite

A parasite is an animal that lives off another animal (the host) without benefiting the host. Gray whales and other cetaceans have skin parasites such as barnacles and whale lice.

Parasitism

Parasitism is arelationship between two organisms in which one organism benefits at the other organism's expense. Lice are an example of a parasite that affects many animals. Parasitism is a type of symbiosis.

Pectoral

Pectoral means of, pertaining to, or near an animal's chest area.


Pectoral flippers

Pectoral flippers are wide, flat limbs located in the chest area that many marine animals use for swimming. Whales and other cetaceans have pectoral flippers.

Peduncle

The peduncle is the area of the whale's body between the flukes (tail) and the main body.

Pelagic

Pelagic means of, pertaining to, or living in the open ocean, either at the surface or at intermediate depths.

Period

The period is the basic unit of geological time in which a single type of rock system is formed, lasting tens of millions of years.

Permian period

Also known as "The Age of Amphibians" (280 to 245 million years ago), this is when Pangaea formed and Earth's atmosphere was oxygenated to modern levels. It ended with the largest mass extinction and was followed by the Mesozoic Era.

Phylum

In classification, a phylum is a group of related or similar organisms. A phylum contains one or more classes. A group of similar phyla (the plural of phylum) forms a Kingdom.

Pilot whale

The long-finned (or Atlantic) pilot whale (Globicephala melas) and the short-finned (or Pacific) pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) are dark-colored, bulbous-headed whales that are about 20 feet (6 m) long. They often travel in pods. These toothed whales have leaf-shaped teeth and eat squid and fish. Pilot whales sometimes beach themselves - it isn't known why.

Pink Dolphin

The pink dolphin, (Inia geoffrensis) is also known as the boto, pink porpoise, and Amazon River dolphin; it is the largest river dolphin. The boto has a long, toothed snout, a humped back (and no dorsal fin), a flexible neck, and pink, off-white, or bluish-gray skin. The shape of the melon is changeable. It is from 6-8 1/4 ft (1.8-2.5 m) long and weighs from 185-355 pounds (85-160 kg). This carnivore eats fish and crabs. This South American cetacean lives in the Amazon River and Orinoco Rivers (and their tributaries) in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, and Brazil.


Pinnipeds

The pinnipeds (Order Pinnipedia) are marine mammals that include sea lions, fur seals, and true seals. They are carnivores that are distantly related to dogs and bears.

Placoid scales

Placoid scales are tooth-like scales composed of dentine that are embedded in the skin of cartilaginous fishes (sharks, skates, and rays). These scales have a curved, backward-pointing spine covered with enamel.

Plankton

Plankton are tiny marine animals (zooplankton) and plants (phytoplankton) that drift along with ocean currents, living near the surface. Baleen whales filter feed plankton.


Plate tectonics

Plate tectonics is the theory that chunks of the Earth's crust (plates) float on the surface and change both position and size over time.

Pleistocene

(pronounced PLEES-toh-seen) The Pleistocene was an epoch in geologic time that lasted from 1.8 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago (it was at the beginning of the Quaternary period). During this epoch, the first humans (Homo sapiens) evolved. Mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, and other Pleistocene megafauna (huge animals) lived. A mass extinction of large mammals and many birds happened about 10,000 years ago (at the end of this epoch), probably caused by climate changes (the last Ice Age ended).


Plesiomorphy

Plesiomorphy (meaning "old form") is a primitive character of a group.

Plesiosaur

Plesiosaurs were flippered marine reptiles from the Mesozoic Era - they were not dinosaurs.

PLIOCENE

(pronounced PLEE-oh-seen) The Pliocene was an epoch in geologic time that lasted from 5-1.8 million years ago (it was at the end of the Tertiary period). During this epoch, the first hominids (australopithecines) and modern forms of whales appeared. The ancient shark megalodon swam the seas during this time.

Pod

A pod is a social group of whales. Baleen whales travel alone or in small pods. The toothed whales travel in large, sometimes stable pods; they frequently hunt their prey in groups, migrate together, and share care of their young.

Poikilotherms

Poikilotherms are animals whose internal temperature changes depending on the environment. Reptiles are poikilothermic.


Polyphyletic

A polyphyletic group consists of organisms but not their common ancestors. This is an artificial group which is based primarily on physical characteristics rather than on evolutionary relationships. An example is "flying vertebrates" which includes birds, pteranodons and bats.

Porpoise

Porpoises are small cetaceans that have a short, beaklike snout or no snout, a triangular dorsal fin, and spade-like teeth. They are Odontoceti (toothed whales).

Precambrian

The Precambrian is the time 540 before the Cambrian period (before million years ago). It is the time from when the Earth formed until simple life-forms evolved.

Predator

A predator is an animal that hunts and kills other animals for food.

Prehistoric

Prehistoric refers to the time before people began recording history in writing. This time varies from culture to culture.

Prey

An animal is prey when another animal hunts and kills it for food.

Producer

A producer (or aurotroph) is an organism that makes its own food from light energy (using photosynthesis), or chemical energy (using chemosynthesis). Most green plants, many protists (one-celled organisms like slime molds) and most bacteria are producers. Producers are the base of the food chain.

Pygmy sperm whale

The pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) is the smallest whale. It is a toothed whale that has a very large head and large teeth. It is about 13 feet long (4 m). They are deep divers and eat squid, fish, octopus, eels, etc.

Pygmy right whale

The pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) is a small baleen whale that lives in the Southern Hemisphere. It eats copepods (tiny crustaceans). It had grayish tp black skin, short, light brown baleen, two blowholes (like all baleen whales), a small falcate dorsal fin, and a large, arched mouth. Females are larger than males; .the largest female is about 21 feet (6.5 m) long and the largest male is about 19 feet (6 m) long. Very little is known about this whale. Classification: Family Neobalaenidae, genus Caperea, species C. marginata.

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