Tag Archives: Dr. Stephen Godfrey

Whale Sense of Smell

Another common question we hear inside the NBWM walls is, ‘Do whales have a sense of smell?’ I wish that I had a good answer for those who ask the question and for our docents, so they could relay the proper information. Research has shown that the olfactory bulb is missing from the brains of odontocetes (toothed whales, dolphins, porpoises). However, Pierre-Henry Fontaine states in his book Whales and Seals: Biology and Ecology, that all cetaceans have maintained their Jacobson’s organ, also known as the vomeronasal organ. This ‘gives an animal the ability to “smell” its food once it’s in its mouth’.

So, what about the baleen whales? A new article just posted by the Alaska Dispatch talks about some of the research being done on this subject. Included in this story is the confirmation that bowhead whales have the olfactory bulb and that the genes for sensing smell are turned ‘on’.  Based on the fact that krill have an aroma, it seems likely that sense of smell is still useful to mysticetes. It will be interesting and fun to follow this type of research. That way we can continue to provide the most current information to our docents and our visitors.

In the meantime, if you are interested in the evolution of the sense of smell in whales, be here on Thursday, March 15, for Dr. Stephen Godfrey’s presentation, When Whales Walked the Earth: Fossil Whales and Olfactory Evolution. Reception is at 6:30, lecture is at 7:30. This lecture is part of the Man and Whales portion of the Combined Speaker Series. More information is available at our website.

When whales walked the earth, March 15

Dr. Stephen Godfrey, Curator of Paleontology, Calvert Marine Museum

Dr. Stephen Godfrey, Curator of Paleontology, Calvert Marine Museum, presents an illustrated lecture, When Whales Walked the Earth: Fossil Whales and Olfactory Evolution on Thursday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Marine science has long assumed that sea creatures like whales have no need of a sense of smell. While this is likely true for some, it is now known not to be the case for extant baleen whales. The discovery of a partial skull of a 50 million-year-old whale sent Dr. Godfrey – one of the foremost researchers on Miocene marine fossils in the country – on an unexpected quest to explain how and why the sense of smell in some whales has evolved but not others.

Dr. Godfrey is the fourth of 12 distinguished speakers scheduled through May 10 – part of the Whaling Museum’s three signature lecture series: the Sailors’ Series, Man and Whales, and the Old Dartmouth Lyceum. Held on Thursday evenings, all programs include a reception at 6:30 p.m. in the Jacobs Family Gallery followed by the lecture at 7:30 p.m. in the Cook Memorial Theater.

Admission: $15 members; $20 non-members. For tickets, call (508) 997-0046 Ext. 100.

The 2012 lecture series is presented by BayCoast Bank, and sponsored in part by C.E. Beckman, and Hampton Inn Fairhaven/New Bedford.