Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Brain of the Whale

Patrick Hof and Estel Van der Gucht of the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York report the brains of humpback whales include spindle neurons, an "advanced" type of brain cell previously known only from the higher primates and the dolphins. Spindle neurons, believed to be used in cognition, may play a role in some signature behaviors including the unique "singing" of the male humpback.
Hof and Van der Gucht wrote, "In spite of the relative scarcity of information on many cetacean species, it is important to note in this context that sperm whales, killer whales, and certainly humpback whales, exhibit complex social patterns that included intricate communication skills, coalition-formation, cooperation, cultural transmission and tool usage. It is thus likely that some of these abilities are related to comparable histologic complexity in brain organization in cetaceans and in hominids."

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