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Friday, May 25, 2012

Discovered! A sensory organ that aids feeding blue whales!

Scientists have discovered a sensory organ that enables very large whales like blue whales coordinate their jaw muscles and bones to take gigantic mouthfuls of prey.

Blue whales use this really incredible procedure known as lunge feeding. Basically, when a blue whale comes across a patch of food (krill), it accelerates towards it - mouth wide open. The amount of prey-filled water they take up more than doubles the creature's weight. How does this happen? Coordination is key. This new sensory organ, found at the front tip of the lower jaws is a structure laden with nerve endings. The team headed by Dr. Pyenson from the Smithsonian Institution says that these are sensors which pick up signals from the jaw as it starts to open. Nerves from the organ then send signals to the brain, which in turn triggers the whales' dramatic and complex feeding lunge.

This article was just published in the Nature and you can read the Editorial here. Additionally, here is a simplified but well-written article on the paper from BBC. It appears, this organ has a role to play in why these animals have evolved to become so big!

Watch a lunge feeding blue whale here by clicking on the behaviour tab....gives you an idea of how complex this process really is and why this organ is so important!

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