02 December 2006
THEY were touted as the brain cells that set humans and the other great apes
apart from all other mammals. Now spindle neurons - the specialised brain
cells thought to process our emotions and that may even enable us to love
and suffer - have been found in whales. The discovery will stimulate debate
both on the level of whale intelligence and on the ethics of hunting them.
Spindle cells, named for their long, spindle-shaped bodies, occur in the
parts of the human brain linked with social organisation, empathy, speech,
intuition about the feelings of others and rapid "gut" reactions (see New
Scientist, 19 June 2004, p 32). It turns out that they are in the same place
in the brains of humpback whales, fin whales, killer whales and sperm
whales. What's more, they have existed in whales for at least twice as long
as we have had them, and ...
The complete article is 1323 words long.