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New sensory organ discovered in whales

Scientists at the University of British Columbia and the Smithsonian Institution have discovered a new sensory organ in rorqual whales that appears to tell it when it’s worth taking a big gulp.

Samples were collected from recently-killed whale carcasses derived from Icelandic commercial whaling operations, and examined using X-ray computed tomography.

And the scientists discovered a grapefruit-sized sensory organ at the tip of the whale’s chin, lodged in the ligamentous tissue that connects its two jaws and supplied by neurovascular tissue.

“We think this sensory organ sends information to the brain in order to coordinate the complex mechanism of lunge-feeding, which involves rotating the jaws, inverting the tongue and expanding the throat pleats and blubber layer,” says Nick Pyenson, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution. “It probably helps rorquals feel prey density when initiating a lunge.”