The Strap-Toothed Whale: A Fascinating Specimen in Whales Tohorā

As part of my role as conservator at the museum I get to handle all the specimens before they go on exhibit to make sure they are in good condition. During the installation of the special exhibition Whales Tohorā, I was very impressed by the specimens and artefacts in the show.

Like everybody, I was wowed by the sperm whales as they were constructed in the gallery. But my favourite specimen was and remains the strap-toothed whale (Mesoplodon layardii).

A strap-toothed whale skull (Mesoplodon layardii) in a display case.

The strap-toothed whale skull (Mesoplodon layardii) on display in the exhibition Whales Tohorā. Image: Jennifer-Lee Mason © Canadian Museum of Nature

I love it because it is so bizarre. It is hard to imagine this animal even exists. It is classified a beaked type of toothed whale. The male has strap-like teeth or tusks that are positioned about halfway along the lower jaw or beak. They slope upwards and backward at an angle of 45 degrees.

As these teeth grow, they curve over the upper jaw, crossing and pressing against it. They may prevent them from opening their mouth more than a couple of centimetres. Barnacles will sometimes even grow on the teeth.

A strap-toothed whale skull (Mesoplodon layardii) in a display case.

Because of its curved teeth, this strap-toothed whale could not open its mouth more than a few centimetres. Image: Jennifer-Lee Mason © Canadian Museum of Nature

In reality, the strap-toothed whales have no functional teeth. So the whales must suck or “hoover” up their food, with its beak functioning something like a straw.

They somehow manage to support their tremendous size (6 m long and 2 tonnes) by eating squid. All beaked whales are teuthophagous (squid eaters). They may occasionally take fish, but this seems a less important part of these deep-divers’ diet.

Close-up of beak and teeth of a strap-toothed whale (Mesoplodon layardii).

Barnacles have attached themselves to this strap-toothed whale’s teeth. Image: Jennifer-Lee Mason © Canadian Museum of Nature

So go check out the strap-toothed whale in the beaked-whale case in Whales Tohorā. You will see why I find it amazing!

This entry was posted in Animals, Exhibitions, Mammals, Whales Tohorā and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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