Readers’ wildlife photos

July 2, 2018 • 8:00 am

Reader Joe Dickinson recently returned from a trip to Australia and New Zealand, and has sent photos, but before he left he went whale watching in Monterey Bay, California. These photos are from that trip, and Joe’s words are indented.

We departed from Moss Landing, home to the world’s largest population of southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), so it’s not surprising that an otter checked us out while we were waiting to board the boat.

We had a fairly routine sighting of two or three humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae).  The second shot looks along the back from the rear, the “hump” in the foreground and blowhole(s), (paired, just like our homologous nostrils) beyond.

The real highlight was a pod of six orcas (Orcinus orca) feeding on a recent kill, probably a young elephant seal:

Based on the very tall dorsal fin and the little crook at the top, the next two are probably the same male.

I can’t look at this next one without thinking of a large aircraft making an emergency water landing.


10 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. The homology of the double humpback’s blowhole has me thinking. What is the survival advantage of having two holes instead of one? If humans had only one it should work as well generally. I guess the reason we have two is in case one side gets plugged you won’t suffocate. A seriously cold with stuffy sinuses could lead to death. So perhaps the humpbacks have evolved two “nostrils” for the same reason. But, don’t Orcas and other whales and dolphins have only one hole? How do they get away with that?

    1. From the BLOWHOLE WIKI :-

      Baleen whales have two blowholes positioned in a V-shape while toothed whales have only one blowhole. The blowhole of a sperm whale, a toothed whale, is located left of centre in the frontal area of the snout, and is actually its left nostril, while the right nostril lacks an opening to the surface although its nasal passage is otherwise well developed.

      The trachea only connects to the blowhole, and the animal cannot breathe through its mouth. Because of this, there is no risk of food accidentally ending up in the animal’s lungs, so whales have no pharyngeal reflex

      Your reasoning as to why we have two nostrils doesn’t seem solid to me – we can always breathe more directly via the mouth. I agree with Joe that it most likely relates to our bilaterally symmetrical development [exceptions internally apply]. I suggest it’s less ‘code’ to grow two of everything symmetrical once you’ve taken the road beyond “I’m a tube with a front end & a back end”

      The case of the sperm whale above is interesting – it’s kept the right nostril although it doesn’t connect to the outside. Does the right nostril have a new function [e.g air sac for sound] or is it serving no purpose?

    2. According to what I have read, our agnathan distant ancestors had a single nostril and olfactory tract. Because of this tunnel in the midline, neural crest cells couldn’t migrate forward to form jaws. Later on, some agnathans developed paired nostrils and olfaction organ (presumably to sense direction of smells), and still later, some of them evolved jaws and drove their jawless brethen into extinction, with the exception of cyclostomes who were nasty enough to survive.
      I do not know how some whales have a single nostril and still form jaws. I am currently at the amphibians.

  2. Wow! Those cool pictures. I just saw an episode of Planet Earth II, where Attenborough described the enlarging populations of sea otters. Now they can be found forming rafts of a few dozen otters, something that has not been seen for a very long time.

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