National Geographic Daily News
Fishermen have found two conjoined gray whale calves in a northwestern Mexican lagoon, a discovery that a government marine biologist described as "exceptionally rare."

Two conjoined gray whale calves found by fishermen in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon, in Baja California, Mexico, on January 5.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CONANP, AFP PHOTO

Jane J. Lee

National Geographic

Published January 8, 2014

Scientists made an unexpected discovery on January 5 when they found the bodies of two conjoined gray whale calves (Eschrichtius robustus) floating in Laguna Ojo de Liebre (map) in Baja California.

The conjoined twins—also known as Siamese twins—measured about seven to ten feet (two to three meters) in length, according to several reports. That's shorter than the usual 12- to 16-foot (3.6- to 4.8-meter) length of full-term gray whale calves.

Gray whale gestation lasts for 13.5 months, said Jim Dines, collections manager of mammals at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California. So the conjoined twins were probably between 8.5 and 10.5 months of age when they were born, he noted.

Dines cautions that those ages are only estimates based on the lengths of single fetuses. "In the case of twins, the mother has to provide nourishment for two growing fetuses and that may result in two slightly smaller fetuses rather than one normal-sized one," he explained.

"These were pretty sizeable," Dines said. "There's a fair chance the mother was trying to deliver them and couldn't."

Researchers who made the find in Mexico didn't spot the mother, so it's unclear whether she survived or not.

A Rare Occurrence

"It's not unheard of in large whales to have Siamese twins," said Michael Moore, a veterinarian at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. He specializes in forensic analysis of marine mammal deaths.

A search through the scientific literature comes up with occurrences of conjoined twins in minke, sei, and humpback whales, he added.

"[But] because of their reproductive biology, whales and dolphins almost always have a single baby," said the Natural History Museum's Dines.

Whales have a pair of nipples, rather than the multiple sets seen in mammals like rodents, he explained. "Most mammals that have single births have just a pair of nipples."

It's also very difficult to raise one baby in an aquatic environment, let alone two, Dines added.

Even if conjoined whale calves managed to make it to full term, it's doubtful they would ever survive, he said. The calves would have to come to the surface to breathe, and depending on where they're joined, that might not be possible.

From photos of other conjoined whale calves Dines has seen, the twins are usually attached along their stomachs or backs, with their blowholes pointing out to the right or the left. "So it would make it impossible to breathe."

It's Not the Radiation

For folks concerned that these conjoined gray whale calves are a harbinger of the radiation making its way across the Pacific from the Fukushima power plant in Japan, don't worry. (See"True Facts About Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster.")

"In the past year or so, when we have marine mammals that strand here in California and we've had the tissues tested for radiation, there's nothing there," said Dines.

"I'm not going to say it's impossible," he said. "[But] we've looked and looked and looked, [and] we've seen zero evidence of radiation affecting cetaceans."

"Just because an animal like a whale has twins, doesn't mean it's been subjected to radiation," Dines said. "Humans have twins all the time."

 

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.

44 comments
Ogden Taylor
Ogden Taylor

Dang. This is what happens after things like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Liana Puig
Liana Puig

1% of whale populations are Siamese twins. they have been recorded since the 60's. Nothing new. Not Fukushima 

ava mac
ava mac

wow! never seen anything like this before.... interesting

concerned for the ocean
concerned for the ocean

BS that weak immune systems and mass ocean die-offs have "nothing" to do with 300 TONS of highly radioactive water being poured into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every day... for the last THREE YEARS. I'm disgusted by National Geographic's ignorance. They linked/referenced a site by written by 6 unknown bloggers. I would like "Dr. M" to address all of these points: http://freedomoutpost.com/2014/01/36-signs-media-lying-fukushima-radiation-affecting-west-coast/ He is obviously pro-nuclear. I would also love to know who sponsors these sites.

mao jason
mao jason

I hope the mom makes it, however I don't think she will. Have other whales been founded like that?

Phil Glodek
Phil Glodek

This could be a result of Fukushima. 


Right off the EPA's website:


http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/gamma.html


"Gamma emitting radionuclides are the most widely used radiation sources. The penetrating power of gamma photons has many applications. However, while gamma rays penetrate many materials, they do not make them radioactive. The three radionuclides by far most useful are cobalt-60, cesium-137, and technetium-99m."


Please correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't this be the reason why the tissues tested negative to radioactivity? Gamma particles blow straight through your DNA (knocking out key sequences in code), they don't just sit there. Right? 

Nikki Ikonomopoulos
Nikki Ikonomopoulos

hmmm... didn't we see alot of strange things like this after Chernobyl???


Could this have anything to do with Fukushima???


robert brooke
robert brooke

The 1969 edition of Science Year has an article about conjoined sei whale calves on page 373.There is an accompanying photograph.

Cheryl Morel
Cheryl Morel

Interesting reading, thanks for sharing.

Radu Purtuc
Radu Purtuc

Thanks Jane for this news. Interesting finding.

nada kaddoura
nada kaddoura

you didn't mention what did you do with - where did you put them- who is taking care of them even if their chances is 0


Reed Nelson
Reed Nelson

Hey Dines, humans aren't whales, so that's an irrelevant comparison.  And unless you tested these two and found no radiation, it's impossible to say "It's not the radiation."

Adam Howard Cross
Adam Howard Cross

when will people stop using terms like "Siamese twins"... jeez.

Ian Cutler
Ian Cutler

@Nikki Ikonomopoulos please read the article, and the further reference material for more details and verification but it does not look to be the case.

Ian Cutler
Ian Cutler

@Dean Gamache  please read the article, and the further reference material for more details and verification but it does not look to be the case.

Ian Cutler
Ian Cutler

@Reed Nelson there is not a single line of evidence that points to a lack of radiation, there are multiple. Rebutting one line of evidence does not mean you are correct.

There is also a link which discusses the real impacts of Fukushima on the oceans. Read these before coming to your conclusions on the effects of radiation on the environment. I am not saying TEPCO weren't dodgey in the way they handled the situation, but this is a very unlikely to be affect from Fukushima.


Also this is not the first time whales have had conjoined twins, so your point is invalid, my hair is a bird.


http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v221/n5179/abs/221490a0.html

Magdalena Boinski
Magdalena Boinski

@Reed Nelson I agree with you. Further than that I'd say, this statement smells like well-paid by the nuclear energy lobby if you consider that a vast amount of marine nuclear waste is concealed from the public!

Joel Bhatt
Joel Bhatt

@Reed Nelson They said they tested the tissue for radiation and found none so what is your problem?

samantha kinney
samantha kinney

@Reed Nelson But we both are mammals, therefore the comparison is relevant. The fact that whales are much larger, a different species, and live in an aquatic environment has nothing to do with the difference of them also having twins like this.

Reed Nelson
Reed Nelson

@Ian Cutler @Reed Nelson 

Read again.  I said several times my only critique was the logic of one or two statements.  I never said there was a link between this and Chernobyl or aliens or Fukushima or anything else.  I never proposed any theory, i was merely being critical of one or two lines of reasoning. 

I haven't come to any conclusions on the effect, if any, of any radiation.  

I have, however, come to a conclusion that the reasoning that although this is the first documented instance (as the article states) of conjoined twins in this species of whales, it's totally normal because humans have twins, is bad logic.  I was merely pointing that out.  

And I think that saying there's no "link" between this and radiation is a much better statement than saying it's not the radiation.  That's all.  

Keep in mind I only pointed out logical inconsistencies contained within this article.  The link you sent doesn't change anything with regard to this article, or my critique of the two statements.  Still, this is the first documented conjoined twins of gray whales. Your link indicates that 40 years ago there was a report of conjoined sei whale twins.  



Reed Nelson
Reed Nelson

@samantha kinney @Reed Nelson Wrong.  Those are huge and relevant differences. In fact, the title of the article says it may be the first of the species.  It is therefore irrelevant that humans have twins.

Reed Nelson
Reed Nelson

@Dale Bruce @Reed Nelson So, just because an animal like a whale had an arm growing out of it's side doesn't mean there's anything wrong.  Humans have arms.

Terrence Rose
Terrence Rose

@Roz Crandall @Adam Howard Cross Of course it's offensive and the author should know that. It's a term that came out of travelling circuses a long time ago and you'd pay $$ to see these mysterious curiousities from lands far away. Conjoined twins is the non-offensve term

Ian Cutler
Ian Cutler

@Mandlenkosi Makiwane you don't know what the word fraudulent means do you?


Firstly you need to learn about the burden of proof.

We cannot start with the premise that radiation caused this to happen, and work backwards to retroactively fit the evidence. You look at what evidence is presented and then develop an idea of what occurred. We see that conjoined twins are things that happen in mammals, in fact occur in vertebrata. The frequency of these events is low, with very little chance of survival. This means there is nothing unusual about this event, nothing that warrants an external force. Therefore if you choose to include an external force evidence must be presented to change that hypothesis.

The burden of proof on climate change has been met, there is a consensus on the data which is verified and is independently repeated. The reason climate denialists are wrong is that they choose to ignore this evidence that is contrary to their own beliefs.

To your second point, if one
 says that there is "no evidence to demonstrate a link" simply means they found no evidence or reason to conclude that radiation was a factor. That does not mean that it was not a factor or later evidence will not be discovered that shows a link.

And finally that you tend to assume that petroleum and nuclear are virtually the same, in what way? Solar and Coal are essentially the same in that they both provide energy. This appears to be a form of poisoning the well, if people assume one of these are bad then the other must also be bad from your analogy. I am not saying you cannot draw analogies between the two, but by leaving out what these are you allow others to conclude what they will.

Mandlenkosi Makiwane
Mandlenkosi Makiwane

@Reed Nelson @Niki Rhodes

I totally agree Reed.  This "no evidence to demonstrate a link" argument is the same kind of FRAUDULENT reasoning used by climate change deniers.

Which brings me to another point: I know some sceptics who are getting research funding from Petroleum companies.  So in this instance, the "no evidence found" arguments being snuck-in as evidence of "non-existence of a link," tend to favour the interest of, not a petroleum company, but a nuclear company.

I tend to think: "Petroleum / Nuclear; Potato / Patato."

Reed Nelson
Reed Nelson

@Niki Rhodes @Reed Nelson Yeah, i acknowledged that it "may be" the first of the species, as the title indicates.  It doesn't make sense to say that it happens all the time, if this is the first documented instance.  Again, I'm not saying that there is a correlation between this and radiation.  But the logic that was meant to placate that concern was very weak.  That is all.

Niki Rhodes
Niki Rhodes

@Reed Nelson Could be first "found" which doesn't necessarily mean the first time it's happened period.  Also read the last 3 paragraphs about the radiation.  A scientist rarely will say something is impossible based on so little research. 

Niki Rhodes
Niki Rhodes

@Reed Nelson The article states it's the first they've found, not that it's the first time this has ever happened in the Gray whale.  

Reed Nelson
Reed Nelson

@Dale Bruce I'm not saying that there has been radiation, but that logic is bad.  Better evidence of no radiation would be saying that this happens a lot in whales.  Not that it happens in a very different species.

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