My Photo


  • Jen-Luc Piquant sez: "They like us! They really like us!"

    "Explains physics to the layperson and specialist alike with abundant historical and cultural references."
    -- Exploratorium ("10 Cool Sites")

    "... polished and humorous..."
    -- Physics World

    "Takes 1 part pop culture, 1 part science, and mixes vigorously with a shakerful of passion."
    -- Typepad (Featured Blog)

    "In this elegantly written blog, stories about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities, and vacations."
    -- Fast Company ("The Top 10 Websites You've Never Heard Of")
Blog powered by Typepad
Bookmark and Share

« party girl | Main | breaking the waves »


"However, sometimes even lone whales will make the social sounds, which would seem to cast doubt on the whole 'social interaction' theory."

Do you never talk to yourself while alone? Or just say something aloud that you know no one will hear? Doesn't sound that much different to me.

Good blog. Your writing might be enough to spare you when the machines assert their lordship.

This week's Science. Poor creationists- they miss the whole point

Humpback whales have "human" brain cells: study

Mon Nov 27, 1:42 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Humpback whales have a type of brain cell seen only in humans, the great apes, and other cetaceans such as dolphins, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

This might mean such whales are more intelligent than they have been given credit for, and suggests the basis for complex brains either evolved more than once, or has gone unused by most species of animals, the researchers said.

The finding may help explain some of the behaviors seen in whales, such as intricate communication skills, the formation of alliances, cooperation, cultural transmission and tool usage, the researchers report in The Anatomical Record.

Patrick Hof and Estel Van der Gucht of the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York studied the brains of humpback whales and discovered a type of cell called a spindle neuron in the cortex, in areas comparable to where they are seen in humans and great apes.

Although the function of spindle neurons is not well understood, they may be involved in cognition -- learning, remembering and recognizing the world around oneself. Spindle cells may be affected by
Alzheimer's disease and other debilitating brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.


The researches found spindle neurons in the same location in toothed whales with the largest brains, which the researchers said suggests that they may be related to brain size. Toothed whales such as orcas are generally considered more intelligent than baleen whales such as humpbacks and blue whales, which filter water for their food.

The humpbacks also had structures that resembled "islands" in the cerebral cortex, also seen in some other mammals.

These islands may have evolved in order to promote fast and efficient communication between neurons, the researchers said.

Spindle neurons probably first appeared in the common ancestor of hominids, humans and great apes about 15 million years ago, the researchers said -- they are not seen in lesser apes or monkeys.

In cetaceans they would have evolved earlier, possibly as early as 30 million years ago, the researchers said.

Either the spindle neurons were only kept in the animals with the largest brains or they evolved several times independently, the researchers said.

"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," the researchers wrote.

"It is thus likely that some of these abilities are related to comparable histologic complexity in brain organization in cetaceans and in hominids."

* Email Story
* IM Story
* Discuss
* Printable View


Recommend It:

Average (368 votes)
4.4 stars
ยป Recommended Stories
Full Coverage: Whales and Dolphins

News Stories
* San Diego performing killer whale injures trainer Reuters via Yahoo! News, Nov 30
* Whale attacks trainer at SeaWorld AP via Yahoo! News, Nov 30
* Baby beluga whale dies at marine park AP via Yahoo! News, Nov 28
* Humpback whales have "human" brain cells: study Reuters via Yahoo! News, Nov 28

Feature Articles
* Iceland resumes commercial whaling at Nature Magazine, Oct 23
* Death on the high seas at The Guardian (UK)., Oct 19

Opinion & Editorials
* On Puget Sound, It's Orca vs. Inc. at The Washington Post (reg. req'd), Jul 26
* Save the Whales at The Washington Post (reg. req'd), Jun 05

Science News
* Sky threatens tonight's shuttle launch AP
* Mars water evidence excites NASA AP
* Russia wants to join NASA moon program AP
* Iraqi marshlands partially restored AP
* Remains of St. Paul may have been found AP

Most Viewed - Science
* Remains of St. Paul may have been found AP
* Mars water evidence excites NASA AP
* Team awarded for better bulb discovery AP
* NASA images suggest liquid water present on Mars Reuters
* NASA telescope sees black hole gulping remote star Reuters

Weather & Science Video

* Astronaut talks about night launch CNN - 8 minutes ago
* Canadian influence - Thu Dec 7, 6:30 AM ET

* Midwest Forecast - Thu Dec 7, 5:00 AM ET
* Northeast Forecast - Thu Dec 7, 5:00 AM ET

A humpback whale breaches off South Africa's coast in a file photo. Humpback whales have a type of brain cell seen only in humans, the great apes, and other cetaceans such as dolphins, U.S. researchers reported on Monday. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

"The mating songs are like a bellowing foghorn, with sound waves spreading far and wide in desperate hopes of catching a female's ear."

Wow, so these poor guys are out swimming alone, talking to themselves, bellowing out in sexually frustrated desparation.

So what do you have against whales?


Absolutely nothing against whales, I just like to poke fun at those who would over-romanticize them. :)

Really fascinating post! I hope you had time to see some sea life in Hawaii. I've become very close with marine mammals here! Research on dolphins offers clues to the purpose of whale oil.

Wait a sec, Louise is in Hawaii? How did that not sink into my befuddled brain? Alas, I saw next to nothing of Hawaii, since when I wasn't attending sessions I was madly trying to keep abreast of my deadlines. I went for a couple of long walks in the sunshine, and did some of the work on my lovely balcony with ocean view... but that's about it.

Hi almost married Jen,
Awesome pic of the whale
so has the man been perfecting his 'foghorn' call?

Never mind the termites
here are some 'worker' ants training for life in space, on the Moon Base and the Mars Missions

Here's wishing you a mighty fine Sunday!

Dear Jennifer, You might have missed Clifford's blog devoted to Mark Fischer's wavelets + whale sounds work ==>
After many hours of discussions with Mark last October and November, what I want to know: Why are biologists not more interested in cetacean communication? Clearly cetaceans are intelligent, but how much? Today there is not a 'library' that maps cetaceans sounds to their behaviors. Why not? Wouldn't this be the first thing that any scientist would do? Now we have the perfect tools to begin to decipher their language (wavelets), and Mark is finding much more interest in his work from the art community rather than the scientific community.

Hi, I just read your post on how the accelerometer was used to pick up the low frequency sounds. That's really interesting and I am currently exploring infrasound in urban architecture/infrasound created by humans in urbanised areas. It's an interactive artwork that I am working on. Would it possible to get any form of schematics on the accelerometer and piezos and how it was used? That would be so helpful :) Thanks.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.