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Structure and Function in the Lunge Feeding Apparatus: Mechanical Properties of the Fin Whale Mandible

researchers with mandible
Oct 9 2017

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Robert E. Shadwick, Jeremy A. Goldbogen, Nicholas D. Pyenson, James C.A. Whale


The mandibles of rorqual whales are highly modified to support loads associated with lunge-feeding, a dynamic filter feeding mechanism that is characterized by rapid changes in gape angle and acceleration. Although these structures are the largest ossified elements in animals and an important part of the rorqual engulfment apparatus, details of internal structure are limited and no direct measurements of mechanical properties exist. Likewise, the forces that are sustained by the mandibles are unknown. Here we report on the structure and mechanical behavior of the mandible of an adult fin whale. A series of transverse sections were cut at locations along the entire length of a 3.6-m left mandible recovered post-mortem from a 16-m fin whale, and CT scanned to make density maps. Cored samples 6–8 mm in diameter were tested in compression to determine the Young's modulus and strength. In addition, wet density, dry density and mineral density were measured. Dense cortical bone occupies only a relatively narrow peripheral layer while much less dense and oil-filled trabecular bone occupies the rest. Mineral density of both types is strongly correlated with dry density and CT Hounsfield units. Compressive strength is strongly correlated with Young's modulus, while strength and stiffness are both correlated with mineral density. It appears that the superficial compact layer is the main load bearing element, and that the mandible is reinforced against dorso-vental flexion that would occur during the peak loads while feeding. Anat Rec, 300:1953-1962, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

DOI: 10.1002/ar.23647