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A whale of a discovery: New sensory organ found in rorqual whales
Date:5/23/2012

ting the tongue and expanding the throat pleats and blubber layer," says lead author Nick Pyenson, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution, who conducted the study while a postdoctoral fellow at UBC. "It probably helps rorquals feel prey density when initiating a lunge."

A fin whale, the second longest whale on the planet, can engulf as much as 80 cubic metres of water and prey equal or greater than the size of the whale itself in each gulp in less than six seconds. A previous study by co-author Jeremy Goldbogen showed that a fin whale captures 10 kilograms of krill in each gulp in order to sustain its average 50-ton body mass. Goldbogen, who conducted both studies while a PhD student at UBC, is now a scientist with the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington.

"In terms of evolution, the innovation of this sensory organ has a fundamental role in one of the most extreme feeding methods of aquatic creatures," says co-author and UBC Zoology Prof. Bob Shadwick.

"Because the physical features required to carry out lunge-feeding evolved before the extremely large body sizes observed in today's rorquals, it's likely that this sensory organ and its role in coordinating successful lunging is responsible for rorquals claiming the largest-animals-on-earth status," Shadwick adds.

"This also demonstrates how poorly we understand the basic functions of these top predators of the ocean and underlines the importance for biodiversity conservation."


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Contact: Heather Amos
heather.amos@ubc.ca
604-822-3213
University of British Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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