Various whales - including the killer whale - do not have the nerves needed to smell well. So, for the sake of convenience, it was assumed that the Greenland whale also received little by the nose. Unjustified, it now appears: there is nothing wrong with the nose of the Greenland whale.
Researcher Hans Thewissen had heard from colleagues that the Inupiaq (a tribe of the Eskimos) use fire to catch Greenland whales. The Inupiaq make a fire on the coast and that attracts the whales. That's how Thewissen came up with the idea that the bad nose of the whale might be a myth.
He went on a whale hunt with the Inupiaq and collected four Greenland whales for research. He removed the brain from the animals and showed that nerves run from the nostrils to the brain. There is then a specialized structure in the brain - the olfactory - that translates the odors.
Small is beautiful
In other mammals, this structure is completely proportional to the brain in terms of size: the larger the brain, the greater the olfactory. With the whale it is different. The olfactory flask accounts for only 0.13 percent of the total weight of the brain. "It is comparable to the smell of macaques and baboons," Thewissen explains. “These animals have a great sense of smell; in any case better than that of monkeys and humans. ”The research also shows that the Greenland whale smells a lot better than other types of whales.
According to Thewissen, the sense of smell helps the Greenland whale to get its prey. His favorite food - shellfish - gives off a strong odor. "One can expect that a specialist in eating krill - such as the Greenlandic whale - has a better developed olfactory than species such as the minke whale that also eats other prey," says expert Henry Pihlström.
The sense of smell would not only help the whale to find its prey. Looking for a partner and avoiding predators also becomes a lot easier thanks to the good nose.