Melon and rostral muscle morphology of Gervais' beaked whale (Mesoplodon europaeus): Alternating patterns of bilateral asymmetry
Denk, M., McLellan, W., Pabst, D. A., Rommel, S., Keenan, T., Sharp, S., … Moore, M. (2023, August 7). ANATOMICAL RECORD-ADVANCES IN INTEGRATIVE ANATOMY AND EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY.
Toothed whales utilize specialized nasal structures such as the lipid-rich melon to produce sound and propagate it into the aquatic environment. Very little nasal morphology of mesoplodont beaked whales has been described in the literature, and the anatomy of the melon and associated musculature of Gervais' beaked whale (Mesoplodon europaeus) remains undescribed. Heads of three (n = 3) Gervais' beaked whales were examined in detail via dissection as well as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Two additional Gervais' beaked whale individuals (n = 2) were studied via archived CT and MRI scans. Representative transverse dissection sections of the melon were processed for polarized light imaging to verify the presence of tendons inserting into the melon tissue. Three-dimensional (3D) CT reconstructions of the melon, rostral muscles, and associated structures were performed to assess morphology and spatial relationships. In all individuals, the melon's main body demonstrated a bilaterally asymmetrical, curvilinear geometry. This curvilinear shape was defined by a pattern of alternating asymmetry in the medial rostral muscles that projected into the melon's tissue. In transverse polarized light imaging, a network of tendons originating from these asymmetrical rostral muscle projections was observed permeating the melon's lipid tissue. This curvilinear melon morphology and associated asymmetrical musculature suggest a means of lengthening the lipid pathway within a relatively short dimensional footprint. In addition, the species-specific arrangement of muscular projections suggests complex fine-tuning of the melon's geometry during echolocation. Further studies may lend additional insight into the function of this unusual melon morphology.