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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2018 (81) > Fit for purpose

Fit for purpose

Whales evolved about 49 million years ago from land-living ungulates, with their closest relative today being the hippopotamus. Like all mammals, they suckle their young on milk and must breathe air regularly. Their bodies exhibit a unique set of adaptations for their entirely aquatic lifestyle. This humpback whale illustrates many of them:


Modified nostrils through which a whale breathes air at the surface, located on top of the head, for ease of respiration. Toothed whales have a single opening; baleen whales have two. The form of a whale’s blowhole determines the shape of its spout, enabling many species to be identified at a distance.


The ‘pleats’ beneath the throat of baleen whales allow them to expand their mouth to take in huge volumes of water, which they then expel with the tongue.

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