by Brian Thomas, M.S.
Scientists just discovered a body organ in the front and center of the lower jaw of the largest mammal that ever lived—the blue whale. All rorqual whales, which are a type of baleen whale, appear to have the special organ. Rorquals don’t have teeth, but instead use comb-like bristles called “baleen” lining their giant mouths to retain tiny animals from sea water. In all the world, only baleen whales swallow huge gulps by “lunge feeding.” Working in symphony with an array of rorqual-specific traits, the newly discovered sensory organ builds an even stronger case for their special creation.
American and Canadian scientists wrote in Nature that the new sensory organ informs the whale’s brain of the resistance force placed upon its gaping mouth when lunge feeding.1 It is very important for an animal that can generate over 1,140 horsepower, pushing 180 metric tons spread across an almost 100-foot-long body, to accurately judge resistance forces that could damage its skin and connective tissues as it engulfs and expels over 70 tons of krillladen water in a single feeding event.2 The unique organ also detects “dynamic rotation of the jaws during mouth opening and closure.”1
Baleen whales need many parts linked in precise proportions and strengths in order to lunge feed as they do. The Nature study authors listed these design characteristics:
- Comb-like baleen plates, slender mineralized keratin protein tubes, to filter out water during lunge feeding
- Folds of chin skin called “ventral groove blubber” greatly expand when they unfold like an accordion to collect whole schools of krill while the whale lunge feeds
- Newly discovered sensory organ collects, coordinates, and confers vital pressure data to the brain
- Split jaw that is loosely connected to the skull suspends the ventral groove blubber and flexes under dynamic pressures
- Touch-sensitive organs called “vibrissae” that detect prey….
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