Sunday, July 1, 2012

An Amateur Hypothesis on Sperm Whale Buoyancy

Here is the deal.
Hardly anything is none of my business.
That is why I went into Geography.
Geography is to life as the stage is to the play.
I've live my life that way, studying life as a Geographer and have never really worked as a "Geographer".

                                           How Low Can You Go
An Amateur Hypothesis on Sperm Whale Buoyancy:

How do Sperm Whales dive miles into the ocean depths to feed on squid and then return to the surface, all on one breath and in 90 minutes.

All of those problems have been answered except one. How do they surface?
How do they get the spermaceti to expand to provide buoyancy when they at the bottom of the ocean and it is a cold hard wax?

At first it was thought that the cold wax version of spermaceti was warmed up by its blood and as it warmed up it expanded and brought the whale to the surface like a balloon. But there is not enough heat exchange for the blood to do that.

"The spermaceti organs may also help adjust the whale's buoyancy. It is hypothesized that before the whale dives, cold water enters the organ, and it is likely that the blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow, and, hence, temperature. The wax therefore solidifies and reduces in volume.[34][44] The increase in specific density generates a down force of about 392 newtons (860 lb) and allows the whale to dive with less effort. During the hunt, oxygen consumption, together with blood vessel dilation, produces heat and melts the spermaceti, increasing its buoyancy and enabling easy surfacing.[57] However, more recent work[47] have found many problems with this theory including the lack of anatomical structures for the actual heat exchange.[58]"

How does the stuff heat up and expand?  Sound.  That's my hypothesis.   The whales organ containing the wax/oil is direct connect to the right nostril which is used to make sound via phonic, aka monkey, lips. Subsonic sound vibrations would heat and expand the wax to oil and up comes the whale.  Problem, well one is that all that biological mechanism has been claimed as imperative territory by the whale talk/sonar imaging biologist.  So that  alone puts a "do not trespass" sign on the whole organ.  I communicated directly with some Sperm Whale experts.  They were kind, but told me that this was outside their expertise and try so and so.  So I'm probably full of bullshit.

I just want to post this here in never blog neverland, maybe to give someone an idea to pursue.  If nothing else, it was an interesting thought exercise.


The Punk said...

Well, I know that my tongue is for tasting things, my teeth for biting, my lungs for breathing, my lips for kissing and my throat is for swallowing, so we can clearly rule all of them out as useful for speaking.

BB-Idaho said...

It could be. Sound energy is converted by the compression of the media; possibly the relatively dense spermaceti would heat more than we would expect the transmission media (water? air? to.
Additionally, there should be less
dissapation in a fixed dense media.
A recent study by Pound and Tarling on related wax phases
in diving copapods suggests some
biophysical actions that vary the
saturation/unsaturation of the waxes; perhaps some combination.
It is amazing these animals can
function in such extremes (up to
2 tons pressure down there)...and
evolution is not a process to waste
such a mass of elegant waxes.
You'd think the whale guys would be
right on it-so it may be more complex than first appears?

drlobojo said...

Well, I'm still pestering the whale guys. In nature the effect is best seen in things like the Alligator laying in mud that does his sub-sonic call and turns the mud to liquid. Another natural event that parallels this is the liquefaction of semi
saturated soils in an earthquake. It is also telling I think that the sperm whales head area is designed to reflect the vibrations back and forth within the oil/wax/junk area at least three times. It is also telling that they are doing this at this great depth and it doesn't seem to have a reason for being done. It doesn't stun or kill their prey for example so why do it? By the way the beluga and even dolphins have smaller but similar set ups but not as elaborate as the sperm whale.

drlobojo said...

Amen Punk. As you know we often miss the shit right in front of us because we know it is not there. Let's see, who was it that discovered air?

drlobojo said...

Malcolm Clarke in the Azores was the one the others sent me to. He is the only one not responding as of today. I ask him if I was daft. Is silence, an affirmation or did it even get read? OK, I'll adapt it as my uninformed truth and go from there. That was the way I held Wegener's Continental Drift until the Geographic Text Books finally affirmed Plate Tectonics as reality.

drlobojo said...

BB the authors of the paper you provided recognized the parallel function of the waxes/oil transition in Sperm Whales as in their subjects. However transposing the substance into gonads is not the whale's strategy of course. A version of Spermaceti can be seen in other deep diving Cetacea. So there is an early ancestral adaptation or perhaps parallel evolution of the technique systems. Flying is a good example, it has evolved at least four times (not counting man).

drlobojo said...

This one is for myself, so I can remember. the copepod mechanism for surfacing is not relevant to the sperm whale and other cetacean deep divers."It turns out that it's all about oil. The copepods have specialised fat stores that act like weight belts, letting the copepods maintain their depth easily and avoid attracting predators' attention with unnecessary movements. Building up enough fat reserves seems to be an essential step before diapause can begin - these reserves automatically trigger diapause once they reach a threshold level. And because the fatty weight belts are also the energy stores that the copepods live off while in suspended animation, timing a return to the surface is simplicity itself - once they've eaten enough of the reserves, the oily liquids no longer weigh enough to keep them down, and they float back up to the surface."

Read more at:

So how do the whales use the spermaceti to ascend???????? What expands it?

drlobojo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.