Painted whale bulla

Object Number: 2004.1.360.1-2

This painting or sculpture is formed from two whale bulla (ear bones) from a fin whale and said to be a likeness made of the whale station manager. This one comes as a pair thought to have been made in the 1950’s.

The temporal bone is the hardest bone in the body. Almost all other mammals share this structure (the bulla), as a protective shield around the inner ear. Humans’ bulla are quite small, about the size of a large marble, but that of a whale’s is huge.

Unlike humans, whose bullae is inside the skull, the whale bulla is located inside their jaw. Incoming sound enters their head and travel through their fat-filled jawbone to the bulla. Their bulla is curved, like a seashell, which aids in collecting and amplifying sounds.