Evolution of the Nasal Anatomy of Cetaceans

  • John E. Heyning
  • James G. Mead
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (NSSA, volume 196)


The nasal morphology of extant cetaceans has evolved significantly from the typical architecture of terrestrial mammals. The need to occlude the nasal passages from water as these animals dived provided strong selection for such changes in morphology. The position of the external nares has shifted posteriorly to a more dorsal position on the head to facilitate respiration with a minimum of head movement as the animal surfaces. The telescoping of the cranial bones as described by Miller (1923) resulted primarily by the repositioning of the nares (Raven and Gregory, 1933). In addition to these modifications of a purely respiratory nature, odontocetes have further evolved a complex series of nasal diverticula superficial to the cranium that are involved with sound production. Based on our dissections of numerous cetaceans (Mead, 1975; Heyning, 1989), we attempt to provide an overview of the salient points in the evolution of the nasal morphology and speculate about some of the selection pressures that might have created the present diversity of nasal morphologies.


Sound Production Sperm Whale Nasal Passage Beaked Whale River Dolphin 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • John E. Heyning
    • 1
  • James G. Mead
    • 2
  1. 1.Natural History Museum of Los Angeles CountyLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.National Museum of Natural HistoryUSA

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