Bowheadwhales 300x195 Whales SMELL? Who Knew!

Bowhead whales

No, they don’t need to take showers! Bowhead whales apparently have the ability to sniff the air!

This discovery could drastically change our theories on how baleen whales find their food, as researchers now have a sneaking suspicion that the bowhead whales actually sniff out swarms of krill, their main food source.

This discovery was made when scientists hacked open the body of a bowhead whale and noticed that there was olfactory receptors which linked to the nose and the brain.

Up until now, it was thought that whales, along with dolphins, had no sense of smell.

Professor Hans Thewissen, a Cetacean expert from the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, and colleagues based in Alaska and Japan, stumbled upon this discovery while taking a gander at the size of the brain in bowhead whales.

The whales were reeled in as a part of the biannual Inupiat subsistence hunt, and Professor Thewissen’s team was granted permission to take a gander at the brain cavities, to figure out how much of the brain actually filled up the brain casing.

“Upon taking a brain out, I noticed that there were olfactory tracts, which, in other mammals, connect the brain to the nose,” Professor Thewissen explained, “I followed those to the nose, and noted that all the olfactory hardware is there.”

This really caught the scientists off guard.

“At first glance, it would appear that whales would not have much use for smell, since everything they are interested in is below the water,” Professor Thewissen explained, “Olfaction is, by definition, the reception of airborne molecules.”

He went on to explain that in most cetacean species which have been put under the microscope to date, which have mainly been whales with teeth like dolphins, sperm whales and orcas, the hardware needed for them to be able to smell was absent.
“Based on this most people assumed that no whale had a sense of smell.”

With a little more digging and prodding, and some extensive tests, it was confirmed that the discovery that the bowhead can indeed smell, is accurate.

Bowhead whales exhibit a large and developed olfactory bulb, which seems to be very similar in structure to the hardware other animals have which can also smell.

It was also discovered by researchers that the bowheads also have functional olfactory receptor proteins, and this is one quality that toothed whales are lacking. These receptors are what provide the biochemical infrastructure for them to be able to smell.
“It is remarkable that this animal, which appears to have very little use for olfaction, retained that sense,” Professor Thewissen said. “We speculate that they are actually able to smell krill and may use this to locate their prey. Krill smells like boiled cabbage.”

Also, unlike most other species of whale, the bowhead actually have separate nostrils, which leads scientists to think that they may be able to not only smell, but determine from which direction the smell is coming.

I guess this means the next time you go bowhead whale watching, remember to wear your deodorant.