what, and how, do whales see?

Using images from Bryant Austin’s gorgeous book Beautiful Whale, Alexis Madrigal explores the topic in an Atlantic article:

“as Austin puts it, the whale challenges him “to reevaluate our perceptions of intelligent, conscious life on this planet.” This mammal’s eye — lens, cornea, pupil, retina, photoreceptors and ganglion nerve cells — is a direct passageway into its brain. And when we look at it, Austin can’t help but see an intelligence there, a connection to a brain that, perhaps, works enough like ours for us to understand each other.”

and

“Whales, unlike nocturnal rodents or ourselves, see the world in monochrome. Leo Peichl at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research co-authored a paper with the nearly tragic title, “For whales and seals the ocean is not blue.” Indeed, the first thing that we can know for sure about how whales see the world is that it exists only in shades of gray. The water we see as blue they would see as black. “They do want to see the background. They want to see animals on the background. And the animals on the background are reflecting light that’s not blue,” Johnsen explained. If we try to imagine what that might look like, Johnsen said perhaps we could picture a grayscale photograph of people wearing fluorescent clothes under a black light.”

It’s a fascinating read.

 

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