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Whale Brains

January 4, 2007

Whales share a specialized type of brain cell with us.


Big news about whale brains. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Whales are more like us than we thought, at least as far as our brains are concerned. This according to neuroscientists Patrick Hof and Estel van der Gucht of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Hof says the brains of some whale species, including humpbacks, sperm whales, and orcas, contain spindle neurons. They’re specialized brain cells believed to be involved in social thinking, and previously found only in humans, great apes, and a few whale relatives like dolphins.

PATRICK HOF (Mount Sinai School of Medicine):
But these cells appear separately during their evolutionary history. And in that case, the whales were first, because they evolved before the great apes.

Hof says these neurons are found in the same parts of whale, human, and ape brains, and they may explain how some whale species developed highly sophisticated social relationships.

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