The Reason Why Big Whales Make Gulping Food Look So Easy

PHOTO: Breaching Humpback Whale in the Indian Ocean.Getty Images
Breaching Humpback Whale in the Indian Ocean.

The reason whales make taking a big gulp look so easy: The mammals have stretchy nerves in their jaws allowing their tongue and mouth to nearly double in size.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia discovered the unique nerve structure and published their findings in an article in the journal Current Biology.

While most nerves are inelastic, researchers found the ones in Rorquals, a family including blue and fin whales, were stretchy and similar to bungee cords.

PHOTO: The nerve found in a rorqual whale. Courtesy University of British Columbia
The nerve found in a rorqual whale.

The discovery is significant because it is unlike anything that has ever been pinpointed in vertebrates, which are animals with a backbone or spinal column.

"This discovery underscores how little we know about even the basic anatomy of the largest animals alive in the oceans today," Nick Pyenson, a postdoctoral fellow who worked on the study said in a statement. "Our findings add to the growing list of evolutionary solutions that whales evolved in response to new challenges faced in marine environments over millions of years."