Friday, 30 June 2017

Whaling's 'uncomfortable' scientific legacy

Jonathan Amos Science correspondent
25 June 2017

It's a curious thing to see a group of early whale foetuses up close - to see beings so small that have the potential to become so big. 

But what really strikes you, especially in those initial developmental stages, is how familiar the forms look. How like an early human foetus, they appear. 

"This is something you see time and time again in vertebrates, not just with mammals," says Richard Sabin, the Natural History Museum's top whale expert. 

"You see these similarities in the early developmental stages and it's really not until you're halfway through the gestation - which for a humpback whale is around 11 months - that you start to see the things that make that foetus characteristically the species that it is." 

Richard has a remarkable sequence of seven humpback foetuses that he's going to put on display for the NHM's major summer exhibition on cetaceans

They go from what is essentially just a ball of cells that's perhaps only a few weeks old, all the way through to a specimen that appears to be a perfect humpback in miniature. 

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