January 24, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

How Whales Swallow Underwater

A whale has to lunge at a mouthful of krill,
then take it down and eat it without drowning.


More complicated than expected: scientists at the University of British Columbia figured out “why whales don’t drown when they gulp down food underwater” in a press release dated 20 January. One scientist said it would be like you “swimming at high speed towards a hamburger and opening your mouth wide as you approached” and then swallowing it without flooding your lungs.

Researchers found that lunge-feeding whales have an ‘oral plug’, a fleshy bulb in their mouths that moves backwards to seal off the upper airways during feeding, while their larynx closes to block the lower airways.

We humans have a seal that closes off the nasal passages and seals the windpipe when swallowing, but whales have a much bigger problem. Part of it is due to their massive bulk. Body parts like theirs have to move longer distances in the available time. Dr Kelsey Gil explains how multiple protective mechanisms have to move simultaneously to prevent the whale from drowning:

Amazing FactsThe researchers investigated fin whales specifically, a type of lunge-feeding whale and found the ‘oral plug’ needed to move in order to allow food to pass to the esophagus. The only way it could was towards the back of the head, and up, blocking off the nasal passages when the whale swallows. Simultaneously, cartilage closes at the entrance to the larynx, and the laryngeal sac moves upwards to block off the lower airways, says Dr. Gil.

This kind of protective mechanism has not been seen in any other animals, or in the literature, Dr Gil added. Another adaptation is baleen, the sieve of cartilage that allows the whale to squeeze out the salt water while swallowing the fish. Lead author Robert Shadwick said that these interacting parts are key components allowing these massive creatures to hunt and feed in the water.

“Bulk filter-feeding on krill swarms is highly efficient and the only way to provide the massive amount of energy needed to support such large body size. This would not be possible without the special anatomical features we have described,” says senior author Dr. Robert Shadwick, a professor in the UBC department of zoology.

This mechanism is unique to baleen whales. Toothed whales, which hunt by catching prey in their teeth, have “completely separated respiratory tracts,” but baleen whales catch mouthfuls of small fish in salt water. Their solution is so efficient, and so wonderful, why— it must have evolved!

The whales’ oral plug and closing larynx is central to how lunge-feeding evolved, a key component in the enormous size of these creatures, the researchers say.

Diagrams in the press release challenge the view that lunge-feeding evolved. Look at the parts list: the nasal plug, nasal cavity, nasopharynx, arytenoid, corniculate flap, posterior pharynx, cricoid, oral plug, epiglottis, hyoid, thyroid, tongue, soft palate and laryngeal sac all have to move appropriately between breathing and swallowing for lunge-feeding to work. Not only that, the whale’s brain has to open and close the appropriate parts at the right times automatically so that the beast can enjoy its catch without having to figure out the sequence of muscle movements. Another question not addressed is how whales can tolerate the intake of some salt water that must accompany the meal.

The paper in Current Biology by Gil et al., “Anatomical mechanism for protecting the airway in the largest animals on earth,” (20 January 2022, open access) only mentions evolution in passing, assuming and repeating that these mechanisms evolved:

These adaptations to facilitate swallowing were a critical development in the evolution of large body size in these, the largest animals on earth…..

The anatomical novelties of the upper aerodigestive tract in rorquals described here are central to the evolution of lunge feeding and therefore to the evolution of large body size.

Illustra Media’s new short film “A Whale of a Story” gives a long list of reasons why whales could not have evolved. So many complex adaptations would have had to occur by chance in a coordinated way, it makes the Darwin tale, indeed, a whale of a story (emphasis on story).

Look at the size of these animals! And yet evolutionists believe they came from a wolf-sized land animal with four feet. Who can believe that?

The Bible in Genesis chapter 1 says that God created great whales on Day 5 of creation week. Which account makes more sense? Millions of years of aimless chance, or a super-intelligence that knew how to put all the parts together for magnificent creatures like these?

(Visited 556 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply