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Do whales have bones?

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Dr Galapagos in his fabulous single-tortoise copter Whale bones, whale skeletons, and shark cartilage.
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Ever since Dr. G's artistic and beautiful answer about sperm whale dives, I've receive a lot more questions about whales. So I thought I would answer a few more.


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 1)  BEE LAW BREAKERS
 2)  DEEP SEA DIVERS
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 4)  DOLPHINS AND NON-DOLPHINS?
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 7)  GOOD WHALE INFO LINKS
 


 If you found this on the beach would you know what it is?.
Know what it is?

  BRILLIANT QUESTION:

Dear Dr. Galapagos,
Do whale's have bones or is their skeletal structure all cartilage?

Would love to settle a debate.

Mark
 
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     What is that skeleton-looking stuff inside this whale made of? Looks like bones to me.
It is bones!
     There's a skull, backbone, rib cage, and a bunch of bones that look like arm and hand bones. The "wrist and hand like" bones are in the flipper.
     In the picture above, the little bones formerly known as the "hind leg", are shown enlarged and outside the body. Normally they are inside the body.
 
 
 
Big Whale - Big Skull:
     Balleen whales have huge skulls with huge jaw bones. The upper jaw bones support a "curtain" of baleen. The right whale has the longest baleen by far. Right whale baleen can be 14 feet (4.2 meters) long.
     The skull pictured below is that of a sperm whale. Truly an animal with a big head. Note the teeth are only on the bottom jaw. Other toothed whales, like dolphins and killer whales, have teeth on the top and bottom.
Sperm whales are thought to be the deep diving champions.
 
 
 

 
     Whales have a long backbone (spinal column) that goes from the skull to the tail. But it doesn't go into the tail. There are no bones in the tail. Hanging from the backbone, up toward the front of the whale, is the rib cage.
 
 
 
 


     The lower jaw bone of a sperm whale.
Definitely not made of cartilage. It supports the biggest teeth in the animal kingdom.

 
 

     The lower jaw can be opened very wide - to 90 degrees. The jaw can be over 3 meters long. The one pictured above is not a particularly big whale.
     Until faily recently the only time most people ever saw a sperm whale was when it was dead on the beach.
 
 



     Inside every whale flipper (or pectoral fin, as the experts like to call it) is a cute collection of bones that look suspiciously like a human hand - complete even with thumb bones.
 
 
 
 
 
Flukes up, ready for a powerful downward thrust. The tail-flukes of the sperm whale are more flexible than most whale flukes. No whales have bones in their tales (hey, that rhymes!).
 
 
 
 
 





 

ANSWER TO BRILLIANT QUESTION:
Dear Mark,
     
Remember that old song about whale bones?
     "Bones, them bones,
      Them whale bones."
     You don't?
      Well it went something like that.   **
     Anyway, the song was right. Whales have real bones. Real bones made with real calcium.
     (Shark skeletons are mostly cartilage. Maybe the person that was thinking cartilage was thinking about sharks.)

     Whale bones are on display in many museums and can be found on many beaches where a dead whale washed ashore or maybe where a beached whale died. Everything else, including cartilage, usually rots away. But bones, real bones, stay awhile.
The artsy photo above is of some whale bones on a lonely beach (unless you're a penguin) in anarctica. Can you pick out the vertebrae and rib?

      The skeleton of a whale consists of a skull, a backbone, a rib cage, and a collection of bones that are part of the flipper, but correspond closely to the bones in the human arm and hand. There is a scapula (shoulder blade), humerus (upper arm bone), ulna and radius (fore arm bones), and a collection of metacarpals (wrist bones) and phalanges (fingers) that correspond to the hand. Look at the drawing below of the bones inside a whale flipper. Isn't that interesting? It really looks like a hand in there!

     Somewhere down toward the end of the whale, floating in the body, not attached to other bones, are a few little bones, that scientists believe are all that's left of what used to be hind legs.

The drawing below shows how the same basic arm bone patterns also occur in other animals. The whale flipper is the one on the bottom left. In the center of the bottom is a human hand, and in the bottom right corner is a mole's foot.
The winged creature on the top left is a bat. The bat's "arm", "hand", and "finger" bones support its wing. The feathered critter on the top right is, of course, a light-boned bird. They also have "arm" and "hand" bones in the their wings.

     While whale bones are real bones, they are apparantly a little "spongier" and less stiff than most land animal bones. Afterall, the bones don't have to hold the animal up. They just have to help it keep its shape while floating in what is pretty much a zero-G world. Even the mind-bogglingly big blue whale is practically weightless in the ocean's salt water. Gravity is not their enemy - unless they get stranded on a beach, then gravity will crush a big poorly supported whale to death.

     One of our sources says whale bones are full of oil and very smelly while they are "drying". We wonder how long that takes?



When is a Dolphin a Whale?
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Comments
Cartilage for Bones?
      Unlike most other fish which have skeletons made mostly of bones, sharks have a skeleton (can you still call it a skeleton?) made mostly of cartilage. Cartilage can be pretty stiff. Part of your nose is supported by cartilage. Also, that hard adams apple on your neck is cartilage. The "gristle" in your steak you can't chew is cartilage.
     Apparently some shark cartilage (like backbone vertebrae sections) gets somewhat calcified and therefore a little harder. But it is still not considered true bone.
     But what about those teeth filled shark jawbones you see hanging on the walls of fishing gear shops? They sure look like real bone to me.
Any shark experts out there know?







 
       
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Answer to Question "If you found this on the beach, would you know what it is?"
     It's the vertebrae of a whale. Vertebrae are sections of backbone. The vertebrae in this picture looks pretty big compared to the human hand in the picture, but they get a lot bigger.
     It is obviously made of bone.
     The vertebrae in the picture to the right is from a beluga whale (according to our picture source - we wouldn't know a beluga backbone from a killer whale backbone).
     
** Okay, there is no such song. We made it up.
     
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