The humpback whale is known as the gregarious, singing "gentle giant" of the sea. But the herring it inventively preys uponâ€”one whale in a gang blows "air bubble nets" around a school of fish while another screams until the poor things are scared to the surfaceâ€”would probably disagree with this assessment.
In any case, the auditory and communicative behaviors within groups of humpbacks reveal remarkable intelligence. However, since whale specimens are rareâ€”either harvested from beached whales or sick aquarium residentsâ€”scientists know only the basics of their brain surface anatomy and are virtually ignorant about what goes on underneath.
But last summer, neuroscientists from Mount Sinai School of Medicine got their hands on one of these rare brain samples and studied it. Now they've published a thorough morphological analysis of the humpback brain, and have compared it to a host of other species. Their study, published in the Nov. 27 early online edition of the journal The Anatomical Record, reveals that the humpback brain contains many anatomical curiosities, including one type of neuron involved in high-level cognitive functions previously thought to be unique to primates.