Introduction

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Abstract

Although the fact that cetaceans are not fish but mammals has been known at least since Aristotles time, and although whales have been mercilessly hunted for centuries, with thousands upon thousands having been observed and dissected, very little was known for a long time about their life habits, as well as about their anatomy. Thus, until the late 19th century there were only vague ideas about the way they breathe. It was far from clear that the comparatively small protuberance that in most cases was the only part of the whale’s giant body which emerged from the water, emitting a geyser of steam, should in fact be the true nose. It was thought to be a “spout-hole” from which, according to the ancient illustrations, “the swallowed water” sprang like a true fountain (Figure 1.). The true nose was thought to be in the small pit at the tip of the rostrum, bearing tactile hairs in some cetaceans (see Lacepède 1804; Von Baer 1826; Kükenthal 1893).