September 20 – Getting Nosey

A side view of the nose of a humpback whale (My camera)

A side view of the nose of a humpback whale
(My camera)

One of the largest set of nostrils in the animal kingdom belongs to the humpback whale. Known to whalers and armchair bloviators alike as a blowhole, this is the sole way that air gets in and out of a whale’s lungs (no mouth breathers in the cetacea!). When the shale comes to the surface, it breathes out quickly and strongly. When the warm, moist air in its lungs meets the cool, dry air over the ocean, the water condenses into a characteristic plume of droplets. Just by looking at the shape of the “blow” an expert can identify the species of whale!

A rear view of a humpback's nose (My camera)

A rear view of a humpback’s nose
(My camera)

The nostrils do more than just allow the whale to breathe; they also allow it to “see”. Just below the blowwhole are  a series of small (for a whale) sinus-like air sacs. When the whale is underwater, it pushes air through the sacs, playing them like the world’s largest nose-flute. The sounds that it creates spread out through the water and get reflected back; by listening to the echoes, the whale can build up a picture of the world around it.

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