Getting to Know Whale Vaginas in Seven Steps

This post originally appeared in Scientific American online.

 It’s not easy to study a whale vagina. But it is necessary.

Richard Fisher, Flickr Creative Commons

Richard Fisher, Flickr Creative Commons

Right now, penises get far more attention than vaginas in the science world. (It’s also apparent in the museum scene, too—sadly, today, there’s no vagina equivalent to rival the Icelandic Phallocological Museum). Surprisingly, the research imbalance is likely due to longstanding gender stereotypes and not perhaps the more common assumption that it’s just easier to observe and study penises than vaginas.

As science journalist Ed Yong recently noted, this is a troublesome trend. First, a gender bias in research subjects skews our basic understanding of sexual selection and evolution; as a result of a preference for sperm and penis studies over female genital investigations, we have underestimated the role of female choice and selection in influencing the course of evolution.

Second, and on a more practical level: without basic understanding of reproductive strategy, we can’t effectively manage natural populations. If the goal of fisheries management is to optimize the growth potential of wild populations, we’ve got to know the basics about what makes a population grow (successful sex and reproduction) and shrink (mortality)...

See the full post in Scientific American Online.