Cetacea

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The order Cetacea (pronounced /sɨˈteɪʃⁱə/, L. cetus, whale, from Greek) includes the marine mammals commonly known as whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Cetus is Latin and is used in biological names to mean "whale"; its original meaning, "large sea animal", was more general. It comes from Ancient Greek κῆτος (kētos), meaning "whale" or "any huge fish or sea monster". In Greek mythology the monster Perseus defeated was called Ceto, which is depicted by the constellation of Cetus. Cetology is the branch of marine science associated with the study of cetaceans.

Cetaceans are the mammals best adapted to aquatic life. Their body is fusiform (spindle-shaped). The forelimbs are modified into flippers. The tiny hindlimbs are vestigial; they do not attach to the backbone and are hidden within the body. The tail has horizontal flukes. Cetaceans are nearly hairless, and are insulated from the cooler water they inhabit by a thick layer of blubber. Some species are noted for their high intelligence.

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Respiration

Cetaceans breathe air. They surface periodically to exhale carbon dioxide and inhale a fresh supply of oxygen. During diving, a muscular action closes the blowholes (nostrils), which remain closed until the cetacean next breaks the surface; when it surfaces, the muscles open the blowholes and warm air is exhaled.

Cetaceans' blowholes have evolved to a position at the top of the head, simplifying breathing in sometimes rough seas. When the stale air, warmed from the lungs, is exhaled, it condenses as it meets colder external air. As with a terrestrial mammal breathing out on a cold day, a small cloud of 'steam' appears. This is called the 'blow' or 'spout' and varies by species in terms of shape, angle and height. Species can be identified at a distance using this characteristic.

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