Thermoregulation in the Mouths of Feeding Gray Whales

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Science  07 Nov 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5340, pp. 1138-1140
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5340.1138

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Vascular structures for heat conservation in the tongue of the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) are reported here. Numerous individual countercurrent heat exchangers are found throughout the massive tongue. These converge at the base of the tongue to form a bilateral pair of retia. Temperature measurements from the oral cavity of a live gray whale indicate that more heat may be lost through the blubber layer over the body than through the tongue, despite the fact that the tongue is far more vascularized and has much less insulation. These heat exchangers substantially reduce heat loss when these whales feed in cold waters.

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