Posted by: The ocean update | December 2, 2015

Extinct whale new member of baleen family (North Pacific)

Baleen whales like the humpback have come a long way from their ancient ancestors (iStock)

Baleen whales like the humpback have come a long way from their ancient ancestors (iStock)

December 2nd, 2015 (Simon Wong). Kiwi researchers have identified a new species of ancient whale which helps bridge the gap between modern filter-feeding baleen whales and their toothed ancestors.

Aside from being a transitional species, the Fucaia buelli is not only the oldest baleen whale ever found, it was also “astonishingly tiny” at between 2 and 2.5m long.

The study of the whale, which lived between 30 -33 million years ago in the North Pacific Ocean, was published by the Royal Society today and also involved US and Japanese scientists.

Modern day baleen whales use comb-like baleen plates to filter krill from the water, but its ancient cousin was a more active hunter with well-developed teeth to chew its prey.

Otago University geology department professor Ewan Fordyce says unlike their mammoth relatives which roamed the ocean, the small mammals were likely restricted to the north Pacific though it is unclear why.

Based on the wear of the teeth, they likely ate food such as shellfish and crustaceans.

Ewen Fordyce

Ewen Fordyce

The partial skull, teeth and partial skeleton is “quite helpful” because researchers thought early members of the family had teeth like a sieve.

Prof Fordyce believes the animal may have used suction to vacuum small prey into its mouth as well as chewing.

The metre-long fossil was found as a boulder “like the ones in Moeraki” on the beach in the Strait of Juan da Fuca near Seattle and Vancouver.

Prof Fordyce says while the discovery is significant in the story of the baleen whale, the importance of the fossil find wasn’t immediately clear.

“You never know until you collect and start stripping the rock,” he says.

Researchers think the animal was an adult by the state of its teeth which had mineralised and also because the bones had fused together – things not seen in juveniles.

Prof Fordyce says it’s always fun to name new species and the Fucaia buelli had a surprise special nod to an artist.

The second name of the species is named after palaeo artist Carl Buell, a well-known illustrator of extinct whales.

Type locality and horizon of Fucaia buelli. (a) Locality map, (b) age and provenance of Fucaia and Chonecetus. Details as to the exact location and horizon are available directly from UWBM. O., Olympic Peninsula; Van., Vancouver Island.

Type locality and horizon of Fucaia buelli. (a) Locality map, (b) age and provenance of Fucaia and Chonecetus. Details as to the exact location and horizon are available directly from UWBM. O., Olympic Peninsula; Van., Vancouver Island.

Citation : Marx FG, Tsai C-H, Fordyce RE. 2015 A new Early Oligocene toothed ‘baleen’ whale (Mysticeti : Aetiocetidae) from western North America : one of the oldest and the smallestRoyal Society Open Science 2: 150476. dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.150476

Source

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: