Odontocetes have specialized mandibular fats, the extramandibular (EMFB) and intramandibular fat bodies (IMFB), which function as acoustic organs, receiving and channeling sound to the ear during hearing and echolocation. Recent strandings of beaked whales suggest that these fat bodies are susceptible to nitrogen (N2) gas embolism and empirical evidence has shown that the N2 solubility of these fat bodies is higher than that of blubber. Since N2 gas will diffuse from blood into tissue at any blood/tissue interface and potentially form gas bubbles upon decompression, it is imperative to understand the extent of microvascularity in these specialized acoustic fats so that risk of embolism formation when diving can be estimated. Microvascular density was determined in the EMFB, IMFB, and blubber from 11 species representing three odontocete families. In all cases, the acoustic tissues had less (typically 1/3 to 1/2) microvasculature than did blubber, suggesting that capillary density in the acoustic tissues may be more constrained than in the blubber. However, even within these constraints there were clear phylogenetic differences. Ziphiid (Mesoplodon and Ziphius, 0.9 ± 0.4% and 0.7 ± 0.3% for EMFB and IMFB, respectively) and Kogiid families (1.2 ± 0.2% and 1.0 ± 0.01% for EMFB and IMFB, respectively) had significantly lower mean microvascular densities in the acoustic fats compared to the Delphinid species (Tursiops, Grampus, Stenella, and Globicephala, 1.3 ± 0.3% and 1.3 ± 0.3% for EMFB and IMFB, respectively). Overall, deep‐diving beaked whales had less microvascularity in both mandibular fats and blubber compared to the shallow‐diving Delphinids, which might suggest that there are differences in the N2 dynamics associated with diving regime, phylogeny, and tissue type. These novel data should be incorporated into diving physiology models to further understand potential functional disruption of the acoustic tissues due to changes in normal diving behavior.
Journal of Morphology – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
Keywords: ; ; ;
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