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Data from: How do baleen whales stow their filter? A comparative biomechanical analysis of baleen bending


Werth, Alexander J. et al. (2018), Data from: How do baleen whales stow their filter? A comparative biomechanical analysis of baleen bending, Dryad, Dataset,


Bowhead and right whale (balaenid) baleen filtering plates, longer in vertical dimension (3-4+ m) than the closed mouth, presumably bend during gape closure. This has not been observed in live whales, even with scrutiny of videorecorded feeding sequences. To determine what happens to baleen as gape closes, we conducted an integrative, multifactorial study including materials testing, functional (flow tank and kinematic) testing, and histological examination. We measured baleen bending properties along the dorsoventral length of plates and anteroposterior location within a rack of plates via mechanical (axial bending, composite flexure, compression, and tension) tests of hydrated and air-dried tissue samples from balaenid and other whale baleen. Balaenid baleen is remarkably strong yet pliable, with ductile fringes and low stiffness and high elasticity when wet; it likely bends in the closed mouth when not used for filtration. Calculation of flexural modulus from stress/strain experiments shows baleen is slightly more flexible where it emerges from the gums and at its ventral terminus, but kinematic analysis indicates plates bend evenly along their whole length. Fin and humpback whale baleen has similar material properties but less flexibility, with no dorsoventral variation. Internal horn tubes have greater external and hollow luminal diameter but lower density in lateral relative to medial baleen of bowhead and fin whales, suggesting greater capacity for lateral bending. Baleen bending has major consequences not only for feeding morphology and energetics but also conservation given that entanglement in fishing gear is a leading cause of whale mortality.

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National Science Foundation, Award: 1656691