Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

New Sensory Organ Found in Rorqual Whales

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

New Sensory Organ Found in Rorqual Whales

Article excerpt

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Scientists at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Smithsonian Institution have discovered a sensory organ in rorqual whales that coordinates their signature lunge-feeding behavior and may help explain their enormous size. Rorquals are a subgroup of baleen whales that include blue, fin, minke, and humpback whales. They are characterized by a special accordion-like blubber layer that goes from the snout to the navel. The blubber expands up to several times its resting length to allow the whales to engulf large quantities of prey-laden water, which is then expelled through the baleen to filter krill and fish.

The study, to be published in Nature, details the discovery of an organ at the tip of the whale's chin lodged in the ligamentous tissue that connects their two jaws. Samples were collected from recently deceased fin and minke whale carcasses. Scanning of the whale's chin revealed a grape-fruit-sized sensory organ, located between the tips of the jaws and supplied by neurovascular tissue.

"We think this sensory organ sends information to the brain in order to coordinate the complex mechanism of lunge feeding, which involves rotating the jaws, inverting the tongue, and expanding the throat pleats and blubber layer," said Nick Pyenson, lead author of the study and a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution. …

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