[MARMAM] New paper: Morphology of nares associated with stereo-olfaction in baleen whales

Conor Ryan miolmor at gmail.com
Sat Feb 3 13:56:57 PST 2024

Dear marmam subscribers,

On behalf all the coauthors, I would like to inform you of a new paper in
Biology Letters:

Ryan Conor, Martins Maria C. I., Healy Kevin, Bejder Lars, Cerchio
Salvatore, Christiansen Fredrik, Durban John, Fearnbach Holly, Fortune
Sarah, Friedlaender Ari, Koski William R., Miller Carolyn,
Rodríguez-González Fabian M., Segre Paolo S., Urbán R Jorge, Vivier Fabien,
Weir Caroline R. and Moore Michael J. (2024) Morphology of nares associated
with stereo-olfaction in baleen whales. Biology Letters, 20: 20230479.

The sensory mechanisms used by baleen whales (Mysticeti) for locating
ephemeral, dense prey patches in vast marine habitats are poorly
understood. Baleen whales have a functional olfactory system with paired
rather than single blowholes (nares), potentially enabling
stereo-olfaction. Dimethyl sulfide (DMS) is an odorous gas emitted by
phytoplankton in response to grazing by zooplankton. Some seabirds use DMS
to locate prey, but this ability has not been demonstrated in whales. For
14 extant species of baleen whale, nares morphometrics (imagery from
unoccupied aerial systems, UAS) was related to published trophic level
indices using Bayesian phylogenetic mixed modelling. A significant negative
relationship was found between nares width and whale trophic level (β =
−0.08, lower 95% CI = −0.13, upper 95% CI = −0.03), corresponding with a
39% increase in nares width from highest to lowest trophic level. Thus,
species with nasal morphology best suited to stereo-olfaction are more
zooplanktivorous. These findings provide evidence that some baleen whale
species may be able to localize odorants e.g. DMS. Our results help direct
future behavioural trials of olfaction in baleen whales, by highlighting
the most appropriate species to study. This is a research priority, given
the potential for DMS-mediated plastic ingestion by whales.

Best wishes,
Conor Ryan
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