Date ArticleType
5/15/2015 Member News
Whale nerves can stretch to twice their normal size

Whale nerves can stretch to twice their normal size

While nerves aren’t generally known for their elasticity, researchers including one of our newest Board of Directors’ members, Dr. Wayne Vogl, of the University of British Columbia recently published data showing the interesting phenomenon of extremely elastic whale nerves.

The Rorqual whale (Balaenopteridae), studied in this research, is one of the largest vertebrates that ever lived. Their feeding “involves rapidly engulfing a huge volume of prey-laden water and then concentrating the prey by more slowly expelling the water through baleen plates. The volume of water engulfed during a lunge can exceed the volume of the whale itself.”1 This feeding technique requires the whale jaw anatomy to open widely.

“The most surprising thing we found in this study is that the nerves are like bungee cords and can quickly lengthen and then recoil with no apparent damage to their function,” said Dr. Vogl. “In any tissue that expands, there has to be changes in the wiring and plumbing that supply the tissue in order for the expansion to occur. The large nerves in this study are prime examples of that.”

As far as future research goes, Dr. Vogl notes that, “It would be interesting to know how the nerve fibers themselves in the core of the structure can unfold and then refold within much less than a minute - there must be some sort of mechanism (morphological template)  that allows repackaging when the nerve recoils.” 

For more information about this research, view the article in Current Biology.whales