Different transformations underlie blowhole and nasal passage development in a toothed whale (Odontoceti: Stenella attenuata) and a baleen whale (Mysticeti: Balaenoptera physalus).

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Reorientation of the nasal passage away from the anteroposterior axis has evolved rarely in mammals. Unlike other mammals, cetaceans (e.g., whales, dolphins, and porpoises) have evolved a "blowhole": posteriorly repositioned nares that open dorsad. Accompanying the evolution of the blowhole, the nasal passage has rotated dorsally. Neonatal cetaceans possess a blowhole, but early in development, cetacean embryos exhibit head morphologies that resemble those of other mammals. Previous workers have proposed two developmental models for how the nasal passage reorients during prenatal ontogeny. In one model, which focused on external changes in the whole body, dorsad rotation of the head relative to the body results in dorsad rotation of the nasal passage relative to the body. A second model, based on details of the cartilaginous nasal skull, describes dorsad rotation of the nasal passage itself relative to the palate and longitudinal axis of the skull. To integrate and revise these models, we characterized both external and internal prenatal changes in a longitudinal plane that are relevant to nasal passage orientation in the body and head of the pantropical spotted dolphin (Odontoceti: Stenella attenuata). These changes were then compared to those in a prenatal series of a baleen whale, the fin whale (Mysticeti: Balaenoptera physalus), to determine if they were representative of both extant cetacean suborders. In both species, the angle between the nasal passage and the sagittal axis of the foramen magnum decreased with age. In S. attenuata, this was associated with basicranial retroflexion and midfacial lordosis: the skull appeared to fold dorsad with the presphenoid as the vertex of the angle. In contrast, in B. physalus, alignment of the nasal passage and the sagittal axis of the plane of the foramen magnum was associated with angular changes within the posterior skull (specifically, the orientations of the supraoccipital and foramen magnum relative to the posterior basicranium). With these results, we propose a new developmental model for prenatal reorientation of the odontocete nasal passage and discuss ways in which mysticetes likely deviate from this model.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Roston, RA; Roth, VL

Published Date

  • November 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 239 / 5

Start / End Page

  • 1141 - 1156

PubMed ID

  • 34287850

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8546527

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1469-7580

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0021-8782

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/joa.13492


  • eng