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Whale Contortionists

May 12, 2015

Baleen whales have rubbery nerves that allow them to stretch to twice their length when they feed.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Expansion of the ventral grooved blubber during a fin whale lunge. Credit University of British Columbia

Expansion of the ventral grooved blubber during a fin whale lunge. (University of British Columbia)

How to whalesize it. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In order to eat, huge filter-feeding baleen whales have to lunge at high speeds toward aggregations of tiny krill and fish as they snap their mouths wide open.

WAYNE VOGL (University of British Columbia):

What happens is that acceleration of the whale movement allows it to encompass a huge volume of water and expands the floor of the oral cavity like a balloon. The volume of water that some of these whales can take in during a lunge actually exceeds the volume of the whale itself.

HIRSHON:

That’s University of British Columbia cell biologist Wayne Vogl. He and his team report in the journal Current Biology that while most animals’ nerves would snap under the strain, these whales have long stretchy nerves in their oral cavity that expand whenever they feed.

VOGL:

And they just snap right back to their original length; they’re basically like bungee cords.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.