Fingers of cetaceans

Date: Thu Apr 24 2003 - 10:41:08 EDT

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    I read in one book, that Fin Whales have only four fingers in their
    pectoral fins. But itīs written in another book, that all cetaceans
    have all fingers, some of them are only small and reduced. Whatīs
    true? Thank you for the answer

    Olga Simkova

    Great question! I looked up the answer to your question in the "Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals" edited by W.F. Perrin et al. and published in 2002 by Academic Press.

    I'll start off with telling you that the scientific name for your fingers is "phalanges" (pronounced: Fuh-lan-gees). As you probably know, cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) are unique among mammals in that they have more phalanges than any of the other mammals; this condition is known as hyperphalangy (=lots of phalanges). The number varies between individuals of each species: pilot whales have the most (14), the bottlenose dolphin has a maximum of 9, and the right whale has a maximum of 7. I don't know off the top of my head how many fin whales should have.

    It sounded like in your question though, when I re-read it, that perhaps the different books you looked at might have been misleading with the way they were written, which is probably what confused you (it initially confused me, too). Cetaceans have all the bones we humans have in the arm. They are just shortened and flattened. They also have more 'fingers' than we do and more digits in their 'fingers' than we do. Perhaps that's what one book was trying to say but didn't do as nice a job of explaining (?).

    Hope this helps.


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