The Devil’s Details: The Whale with a P***s in its Mouth

Warning: This post contains the word “penis” – several times. Rest assured that it is not, in fact, about penises.

You can read the full article here, but I just found this too bizarre and amazing not to share it with you.

A team of scientists have discovered what is, for all intents and purposes, a penis attached to a bowhead whale’s palate. Fortunately it turns out it’s not the baby-making kind, so that’s at least one awkwardness out of the way.

Dr. Alexander Werth and his colleagues were observing an Inuit whale hunt (in the interests of science, naturally). Apparently this is the best way to get access to fresh whale tissue, which I was not aware was a commonly sought-after thing.

In any case, as they were observing the dissection, they noticed a very large ridge running along the roof of the whale’s mouth. It was nearly twelve feet long, which begs the natural question: how did they not know about this before? After all, surely these whale anatomists must spend a lot of time inside whales’ mouths, no?

What was astonishing to learn was that, when the hunters cut into this organ, it bled – massively. Sort of like if, you know, the same thing happened to a penis (don’t linger too long on that thought).

The bowhead whale's second "penis".

The bowhead whale’s second “penis”.

When they did further studies, they found that the interior structure of this odd organ did indeed function in a very similar way to the reproductive penis: it contained a mass of spongy tissue that could easily fill with blood, expanding the organ. When they discovered that this enormous pseudo-penis extended directly to the base of the brain, they started to have an inkling. The bowhead whale, out of all the species there are, is one of the most insulated, which makes sense for its arctic environment. In fact, it’s so well insulated that it can’t get rid of its own body heat efficiently. They suspected that in swelling this organ (effectively getting an erection in their mouth), they could put a large amount of their blood in contact with a vast quantity of freezing water. This would then flow back into the whale’s body, thus cooling it.

Where it gets really weird, though, is that they also discovered the surface of this organ contained a large number of extremely sensitive nerve endings – also rather like a penis. Presumably this wasn’t for the sake of having a good time, and indeed it appears to be related to the whale’s method of feeding. It takes a huge amount of energy for a whale to allow its mouth to fill with water, and then compress it so that it flows back out through their baleen. So much energy, in fact, that the whale probably wouldn’t want to waste it unless there was also a substantial quantity of food in the water. By sensing when the water contains a sufficient amount of food, it can ensure that no excess energy is wasted.

So anatomically, the bowhead whale has a fully functional penis in its mouth (sans the baby-making part). Which makes it one of the slightly weirder animals in the world.

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