Narwhal Tusks – Sensitivity

Narwhal Tusks – Sensitivity
Music
Ambiance Narwhal song – CD 06.01.12-1

Anyone who’s ever had a bad cavity knows how sensitive a tooth can be – particularly to cold temperatures. So why would an animal that lives in frigid arctic waters have an enormous, sensitive tooth? I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
We’re listening to the sounds of a narwhal – an arctic whale with an eight-foot long tusk-like tooth that curves upwards from the left side of its head. Dentist Martin Nweeia recently made the discovery that the narwhal’s tooth was extraordinarily sensitive.

“Although you see this tusk as this hard, rigid object, it really has a nerve that extends almost to its end. So, why on earth do you want, this kind of sensitivity that’s all the way through a tusk that could potentially break, as well. I think until someone gets me a good narwhal to English dictionary, it’s going to be pretty difficult to determine. So, to analyze this kind of information and perception, what I’ve done basically is fabricate a series of experiments where I’ve hooked up an electroencephalogram to monitor brain activity, while introducing stimuli to the tusk. The other way of doing it is an acoustic response: putting a microphone in the water and just if the whale’s basically saying an analogous phrase to “ouch.” We’re also looking at muscle activity, because certainly when people are experiencing pain, they have kind of a wince, you know, or they might stretch their eye a little bit. So, we have particularly one electrode for muscle activity that’s located right over the eye, because that’s particularly where receptors might be found for that kind of a response. I think by looking at three variables: muscle activity, brain activity and sound response, we can get a better idea of what the narwhal is actually perceiving when certain stimuli are occurring on its tusk. And those are the kinds of experiments that we’re doing now.”

Sensitivity isn’t the only unusual thing about this whale tooth. We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.

Narwhal Tusks - Sensitivity

How does a whale say 'ouch'? Scientists studying the narwhal's unusual tusk-like tooth try to tackle that problem.
Air Date:03/16/2012
Scientist:
Transcript:

Narwhal Tusks - Sensitivity
Music
Ambiance Narwhal song - CD 06.01.12-1

Anyone who's ever had a bad cavity knows how sensitive a tooth can be - particularly to cold temperatures. So why would an animal that lives in frigid arctic waters have an enormous, sensitive tooth? I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
We're listening to the sounds of a narwhal - an arctic whale with an eight-foot long tusk-like tooth that curves upwards from the left side of its head. Dentist Martin Nweeia recently made the discovery that the narwhal's tooth was extraordinarily sensitive.

"Although you see this tusk as this hard, rigid object, it really has a nerve that extends almost to its end. So, why on earth do you want, this kind of sensitivity that's all the way through a tusk that could potentially break, as well. I think until someone gets me a good narwhal to English dictionary, it's going to be pretty difficult to determine. So, to analyze this kind of information and perception, what I've done basically is fabricate a series of experiments where I've hooked up an electroencephalogram to monitor brain activity, while introducing stimuli to the tusk. The other way of doing it is an acoustic response: putting a microphone in the water and just if the whale's basically saying an analogous phrase to "ouch." We're also looking at muscle activity, because certainly when people are experiencing pain, they have kind of a wince, you know, or they might stretch their eye a little bit. So, we have particularly one electrode for muscle activity that's located right over the eye, because that's particularly where receptors might be found for that kind of a response. I think by looking at three variables: muscle activity, brain activity and sound response, we can get a better idea of what the narwhal is actually perceiving when certain stimuli are occurring on its tusk. And those are the kinds of experiments that we're doing now."

Sensitivity isn't the only unusual thing about this whale tooth. We'll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.