WHALE SENSES - TASTE2014
By Amelia Meyer
The sense of taste is, in general, not as important to all animals as it is to human beings. We delight in a range of flavours, even craving sweet, sour or salty food. Animals, however, do not necessarily need to have this quality of enjoyment. Still, taste may help them to avoid food that has become rotten, for example.
Whales and other cetaceans do not enjoy a very strong sense of taste. In fact, some have wondered if they can taste at all. Most whales possess visible taste buds on their tongues, but these have often atrophied (died) or they have degenerated, making them quite useless. Still, on observation, whales and dolphins have been shown to avoid dead fish and sometimes display a preference for one fish above another. This would imply that they prefer the taste of a particular fish species.
Some whale species have a Jacobson’s organ or vomeronasal organ. This enables them to smell food once it is in their mouths, which produces something very similar to a taste sensation.
Since whales tend to eat the same type of food (living organisms from the sea), their sense of taste may be far less important to them, since they do not need to discriminate. For one, everything that they take in will taste more or less the same. In addition, the sea water that they necessarily ingest with every meal would mask the taste of the actual prey.
While their senses of taste and smell may not be particularly well developed, it is important to remember that whales have other very effective senses, which aid in their protection and feeding.
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