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No. 29: Sep-Oct 1993

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Porpoise Stun Gun

Just about everyone knows that some whales and porpoises have oil/wax-filled sound lenses in their foreheads. These biological lenses focus clicks and other sounds sonar-fashion ahead of the swimming animal, which then listens for echoes from prey and other targets. But what if these bursts of sound could be made very powerful -- could they be employed to stun and disorient prey?

Bits of evidence are accumulating to support the theory that some whales and porpoises actually have acoustic stun guns in their foreheads. First, there are visual observations of fish being hunted by whales and porpoises suddenly giving up flight, becoming passive, and almost asking to be snapped up by their pursuers. Second, the stomachs of whales often contain much faster and more mobile prey -- often without any teeth marks. Finally, bottlenose dolphins are known to have the capability of producing bursts of sound five orders of magnitude more intense than their usual navigating clicks. This is more than enough to kill small fish.

(Norris, Kenneth S., and Mohl, Bertel; "Can Odontocetes Debilitate Prey with Sound?" American Naturalist, 122:85, 1983.)

Comment. Here is another instance of the "problem of perfection." An existing organ of great complexity seems utterly useless of only fractionally developed. One would think that the complicated sound lenses, the muscular sound-generating tissues, and their containing structures would have to have developed in a single step in order to have any survival value.

Reference. Sperm whales also use a stun gun. See BMO10 in our Catalog: Biological Anomalies: Mammals II. For more information, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #29, SEP-OCT 1983. 1983-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987