ROOTSTOWN, Ohio, July 23 (UPI) — Bowhead whales can smell the air, scientists say, contradicting previous thought that whales and dolphins completely lacked the ability.
Researchers dissecting bowhead whale bodies discovered olfactory hardware linking the brain and nose and the protein receptors required to smell, BBC news reported Friday.
The discovery came as a surprise, a scientist who did the dissections said.
“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,” cetacean expert Professor Hans Thewissen of Northeastern Ohio University said.
“Olfaction is, by definition, the reception of airborne molecules.”
In most cetacean species such as dolphins, sperm whales and orcas (killer whales), the anatomical hardware needed for olfaction is missing, Thewissen said.
“Based on this most people assumed that no whale had a sense of smell,” he said.
“It is remarkable that this animal, which appears to have very little use for olfaction, retained that sense,” Thewissen said of the bowhead whales.
“We speculate that they are actually able to smell krill and may use this to locate their prey,” he said. “Krill smells like boiled cabbage.”
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