Questions for ‘Skipping stone physics could aid net-tangled whales and more’

a stone kicks up three arcs of water behind it as it skips over the surface of a pond, with sun shining through trees in the background

Many children who grow up near bodies of water attempt to fling stones across the water, making them skip as many times as possible before finally sinking. Similar physics inspired the development of new buoys to help save trapped whales.

Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd/Photodisc/Getty Images Plus

To accompany ‘Skipping stone physics could aid net-tangled whales and more


Before Reading:

  1. How might large fishing nets cause accidental harm to ocean-dwelling creatures? List three untargeted species that you think might be accidentally harmed by modern fishing practices.
  2. In one sentence, describe what it looks like to “skip stones” across water. (If you’re unfamiliar with stone skipping, check out this quick video.) Consider the factors that go into successfully skipping a stone. Describe what you imagine as the ideal stone shape for skipping. Describe what you imagine as the ideal technique for making a stone skip as often as possible. For instance, how might you hold the stone? How might you angle the stone for throwing?

During Reading:

  1. From your reading of the story, what are floating buoys on large fishing nets supposed to sense? 
  2. In the context of this story, what is drag?
  3. Under what conditions might the floating buoys experience a lot of drag?
  4. What problem occurs when these floating buoys get pulled underwater?
  5. What shocked Tadd Truscott about the behavior of the sphere-shaped buoy when pulled across the water? 
  6. Truscott and his team noted that an air bubble formed around their spherical buoy. What “streamlined” shape did this air bubble form that resulted in a reduction of drag? 
  7. Describe how the shape of Truscott’s new and improved buoy differs from traditional buoys. How might this design change help whales?

After Reading:

  1. Imagine you own a company that sells buoys and other fishing supplies. After reading this story, you decide to sell only fishing buoys with the redesigned shape. However, when your customers see this change, many want the old buoys back. “Why should I change?” one customer says. “I’ve used the other buoy style for years, and it works fine.” Identify one concern this customer might have about the new design. What might you tell this customer to encourage them to try the new buoy? Use findings in this story to support your response.
  2. Unlike fish, marine mammals such as whales use lungs to breathe. Why might this make whales more vulnerable to the accidental fishing problems described in this story? What is another aquatic species with lungs that, similar to whales, might suffer from fishing nets? Would the newly redesigned buoy help this species? Explain why or why not.
  3. A misconception is an incorrect assumption or opinion about something. Scientists must often confront their misconceptions when faced with unexpected data or scientific findings. What is an example from this story of a scientist confronting one of their misconceptions? Imagine this scientist had been unwilling to accept such unexpected results. How might this study have been affected?