Whale jaw joint is a shock absorber [SHORT COMMUNICATION]

Alexander J. Werth and Haruka Ito

The non-synovial temporomandibular jaw joint of rorqual whales is presumed to withstand intense stresses when huge volumes of water are engulfed during lunge feeding. Examination and manipulation of temporomandibular joints (TMJs) in fresh carcasses, plus CT scans and field/lab mechanical testing of excised tissue blocks, reveals that the TMJ’s fibrocartilage pad fully and quickly rebounds after shrinking by 68–88% in compression (by axis) and stretching 176–230%. It is more extensible along the mediolateral axis and less extensible dorsoventrally, but mostly isotropic, with collagen and elastin fibers running in all directions. The rorqual TMJ pad compresses as gape increases. Its stiffness is hypothesized to damp acceleration, whereas its elasticity is hypothesized to absorb shock during engulfment, allow for rotation or other jaw motion during gape opening/closure, and aid in returning jaws to their closed position during filtration via elastic recoil with conversion of stored potential energy into kinetic energy.

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