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Existence of vocal folds in the larynx of odontoceti (toothed whales).

Authors
Type
Published Article
Journal
The Anatomical record
Publication Date
Volume
221
Issue
4
Pages
884–891
Identifiers
PMID: 3189879
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

Odontocetes (toothed whales) vocalize for communication and echolocation. The mechanisms of sound production, however, remain unclear. Their larynx has long been thought to lack vocal folds and, thus, was considered incapable of generating sounds. This study investigates internal anatomy of the odontocete larynx to: 1) describe the morphology of any folds found, 2) determine any structural homologies between these folds and the vocal folds of terrestrial mammals, and 3) assess their possible function in sound production. Larynges of 24 odontocetes representing ten genera (Delphinus, Stenella, Lagenorhynchus, Tursiops, Grampus, Delphinapterus, Globicephala, Kogia, Mesoplodon, and Phocoena) were studied post mortem. Nine specimens were cut midsagittally, and the remainder were dorsally opened to reveal internal anatomy. Results show that, contrary to established belief, vocal folds are consistently present. They are not isolated bands or "cords," but appear continuous with the internal laryngeal membrane. The attachments of these folds are the same as in terrestrial mammals, thus indicating homology with true mammalian vocal folds. These folds extend from the midline of the thyroid cartilage to the base of the arytenoid cartilages, sometimes to a discrete process. The vocal folds are elongated and oriented in a vertical plane, parallel to airflow direction. Vocal fold morphology varies, appearing as true bifurcated structures, a trifurcated fold, or a single midline fold. Laryngeal ventricles and vestibular folds are also consistently found lateral to the vocal folds. The vocal folds may divide the airstream within the larynx into three separate air currents. Fold vibrations may produce initial laryngeal sound used in echolocation or communication.

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