Gigantic whales were discovered to have a unique mechanism which enables them to feed. The mechanism in their mouth and tongue helps them swallow huge amounts of water and fish which can sometimes be larger than the volume of their body. Their unique nerve structure doubles in length and draws back like a bungee cord while the whale feeds.
The study conducted by a Canadian research team was published in the journal Current Biology. The scientists travelled to Iceland and examined the whales’ anatomical adjustments to lunge feeding such as their muscles and jaws. The researchers collaborated with commercial whalers since they needed special equipment. Professor Wayne Vogl of the University of British Columbia, the lead author of the study, explained that Iceland is the only place in the world where they can do this type of work. Even getting through the skin of the whale is something very difficult and it requires heavy machinery. He pointed out that it is important to have the right equipment otherwise this job can be dangerous. If the heart of the whale falls on you it can kill you, he added.
It is known that that the rorquals’ bulk feeding mechanism involves major changes in the anatomy of the mouth blubber and the tongue which allows large deformation. Professor Vogl explained that their findings show that the tissue nerves too undergo modifications in order to withstand the deformation. He also remarked:
“This discovery was totally unexpected and unlike other nerve structures we’ve seen in vertebrates, which are of a more fixed length.”
Zoologist Robert Shadwick of the same university as Professor Vogl and co-author of the study said that while they were analyzing the muscles in the floor of the mouth they noticed the long white cords and their first mistook them for a blood vessel. However when they cut it open the cord was not hollow inside like a blood vessel is supposed to be, but it had a yellow core in the middle.
According to Shadwick the following step is to get a better insight into how the core of the never is folded in order to allow the quick unpacking and repacking while the whale is feeding. Nick Pyenson of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History pointed out that the findings of this study underscore how little scientists know about the basic anatomy of ocean’s largest animals of today.
Image Source: Darren Naish