I recently watched Blackfish a documentary about killer whales. The documentary touched on the advanced brain structure of these killer whales. The paralimbic structure, not present in humans, lead researchers to believe killer whales are much more socially advanced than humans. This was reinforced by the killer whales displays of emotion and attachment. In the wild they have different languages and cultures much like different countries. If their brains looked so robust after a lifetime of captivity, deprived of culture and family, imagine what they look like in their natural habitat. In an article by Marino et al., researchers examine the killer whale brain in depth. The used an MRI to look at the brain of an adult killer whale who had recently died of natural causes. There were many interesting findings, I will highlight a few. I suggest using the link at the bottom for further investigation. The frontal operculum had many more folds than the human version. In humans, the frontal operculum is involved in speech. This adds to the theory that killer whales have advanced dialects and possibly societal structure. Or this part of the brain could serve a different purpose in killer whales. The topographical arrangement of cortical maps in killer whales is very different from other mammals. The killer whale brain appears extremely elaborated in the limbic lobe. The developed limbic lobe is an interesting feature to the small hippocampus. Killer whales exhibit highly sophisticated ranging and distribution patterns that depend heavily on spatial memory skills.
4 thoughts on “Inside the Mind of a Killer….. Whale”
I also have recently watched documentaries about killer whales – with two different perspectives. One was about killer whales in the wild and the other was about killer whales in captivity in places like sea world. It was interesting to see the contrast in the whales behavior in the different environments and I would be interested to see a comparison of the brains of whales in captivity compared to those in the wild. I wonder if they would less sophisticated ranging and distribution patterns. I think its interesting how social these animals are and how smart they are – and their brains according to your investigation on the research – certainly reflect that. I like that you highlighted the point about the frontal operculum (which is involved in speech in humans). The documentaries talked about how each clan/family of whales all over the world has a different dialect.
The fact that the limbic systems of animals like the killer whale, or dolphins, are more advanced than that of humans instills a sense of curiosity of these animals’ consciousness. As humans, it is hard to believe that there are other animals on this planet can be more socially advanced then humans since the entire basis of humanity is built on human interaction and connection. If these animals are so socially complex, do they have conscious knowledge of their own thoughts, feelings and desires? It is known that these animals, as well as several other species, have “self-awareness”, or know that they exist separate from other animals and the environment. It will be interesting to see how research on killer whale cognition, a relatively unexplored field, develops over the next few years.
I also recently watched Blackfish, and I am very intrigued by what’s going on inside these Whales’ brains. A recent post on this blog talked about what the brain of a human serial killers look like. The author said that just because you have the brain of a killer doesn’t mean that you are going to be one. The argument of Nature vs. Nurture comes back into the question. I think it would be interesting to look at what the brain of a captive killer whale looks like vs. a whale in the wild. Blackfish makes the argument that its the environment of captivity that makes the whales so aggressive, but is there physical evidence in the brain to support that? If that’s true, I think it might be interesting to look at humans that have been in prison for long amounts of time. Are their brains showing significant difference? People say that once you go to jail, you are significantly more likely to go back. Is it the atmosphere, and the relationships you make that lead to this, or are our prisons, much like whale captivity, making the prisoners’ more aggressive. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.