Sperm whale preparation (Updated)

I had a busy schedule of lectures and field trips last week, and only arrived back in Martinsville on Thursday, which is why I’ve been slow in posting a new entry.

Yesterday Ward Littlefield and I began preparing the sperm whale that we just collected from the Rappahannock River. One of the first bones that we cleaned is shown above, which turns out to be pretty interesting. These are the right jugal and lacrimal bones, fused together. The border between the two bones is indicated by the arrow. The jugal and lacrimal make up the bottom of the eye socket. Anterior is to the right, so this is a medial (inside) view of the bone. So it turns out that we did get at least one piece of the cranium.This is part of the jacket that Jeff collected prior to our arrival. The broad brown surface in the center and to left of center is the back end of a dentary; the front is at the top, and will hopefully attach to the rest of the dentary in one of our other jackets. There is a yellow patch over the bone in the center of the picture, below the scale bar. This is a sulfer-rich layer of sediment. Most of the bones and teeth from this specimen are surrounded by a thin layer of this sulfur-rich sediment, as well as sulfur-based minerals like gypsum. I suspect that this sulfur is derived from the decaying soft tissues from the whale.

Based on the comments, I decided to add a photo from a modern sperm whale, showing the location of the lacrimal and jugal. The photo below is of the mounted sperm whale skeleton on exhibit at the Museo de Historia Natural in Lima, Peru. The photo is from the right side, and the lacrimal and jugal are outlined in red.

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12 Responses to Sperm whale preparation (Updated)

  1. Jeff S. says:

    Awesome, Butch, I can’t wait to see more of it.

  2. Doug says:

    I Concur Jeff! If only there was a diagram to show where that little bone came from.

  3. Alton Dooley says:

    I’ll see if I can come up with a photo of a modern sperm whale skull and post it tomorrow.

  4. Dave Bohaska says:

    I am interested in the comment by Markus about tooth replacement in sperm whales. I would really like to see a reference on that. Mark Uhen and Phili Gingerich 2001 (Marine Mammal Science 17(1)) discuss tooth replacement in Archaeocetes, but suggests a lack of replacement (even one set) in the archaeocete Chrysocetus healyorum and all Odontocetes and Mysticetes. (They cite Fordyce 1982. I don’t know offhand how widely Odontocetes and Mysticetes have been checked for the lack of tooth replacement). As far as I know, manatees are the only mammals to continuely replace their teeth.

    Alton Dooley, posting for Dave Bohaska

  5. Alton Dooley says:

    Markus, I’ve been meaning to ask you for that reference as well.

  6. Doug says:

    Thanks for the picture, “Butch”. That really puts it into perspective.

  7. Markus says:

    Hallo Alton. I read about the replacement teeth in the book “Pottwale – im dunklen Blau des Meeres” (Sperm whales – in the deep blue of the sea). It was discovered in 1997 by Günther Behrmann which examined the skull of a sperm whale which stranded some years ago near the german town Stade. According to him, there are up to 200 small replacement teeth-buds under the normal teeth which can replace the teeth which are lost by caries, which often occurs in sperm whales. Sadly I could not find an official publication about it or any pictures.

  8. Alton Dooley says:

    Thanks, Markus. I have to say, I’m very dubious about continuous tooth replacement in sperm whales, for a variety of reasons. As Dave mentioned, published data indicates that at least in the more advanced whales, there don’t seem to even be deciduous teeth, and that certainly seems consistent with what I’ve seen. In addition, in many toothed whales, including the sperm whales, there is typically heavy wear on the teeth, from prolonged use. In animals with continuous tooth replacement, I believe the teeth never show a lot of wear; the just fall out and get replaced.

  9. Grenda says:

    The sperm whale find is exciting and intriguing. The picture of the whale in Lima made me nostalgic. I loved the Peru trips and the desert. Where we went in the Atacama should be identified as a World Heritage site.

  10. Markus says:

    I am also still a bit critical about this claim of tooth replacement, because I couldn´t find any publication about it. Behrmann also said that he discovered buds of dentes permanentes in juvenile porpoises which atrophy when they grow older. But I have to say that I am really no expert about this special issue, and I took it with a grain of salt as long as I don´t find further information.
    BTW, would it be possible to use some of the skull and tooth-photos for a short article at my blog?

  11. Alton Dooley says:

    That’s fine, Markus; just cite the blog as the source of the images.

  12. Markus says:

    Thank you for this Alton!

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