Building a Deep-Diving Mammal: Insights into the Functional Morphology of Cetaceans through the Investigation of Strandings
Ann Pabst, UNC - Wilmington
6 Apr 2012
Our lab investigates how the mammalian body is functionally adapted to the marine environment. My students, colleagues and I have focused much of our work on musculoskeletal design and thermoregulatory function in cetaceans (the whales, dolphins and porpoises). We utilize stranded and fisheries by-caught marine mammals in our research, and employ quantitative morphological and physiological techniques, image analysis, and tools from the field of biomechanics, to investigate animal function. For the Grice Lecture, I will describe some of our most recent research efforts on the functional morphology of a specific group of deep diving whales – the pygmy and dwarf sperm whales (Kogia spp.). These whales are thought to dive to depths of up to 1000 meters and for durations of up to an hour. The kogiids are very difficult to study at sea, though, as they are most often solitary, inconspicuous, and spend much of their time submerged. We have utilized stranded specimens to gain some of the very first insights into how their bodies are specialized for their extreme diving behavior. During the lecture, we will investigate morphological features of their blubber, swimming muscles, and pulmonary system, and compare them to the more well-known bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). We will then put these data into a broader phylogenetic context, to provide insights into the evolution of deep diving in marine mammals.
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