Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dwarf whale survived well into Ice Age

Date:
April 4, 2013
Source:
University of Otago
Summary:
Research detailing the fossil of a dwarf baleen whale from Northern California reveals that it avoided extinction far longer than previously thought.

Research detailing the fossil of a dwarf baleen whale, Herpetocetus, from Northern California reveals that it avoided extinction far longer than previously thought. The 4-5 metre long whale, thought to be the last survivor of the primitive baleen whale family called cetotheres, may be as young as 700,000 years old. The previously youngest-known fossils of this whale were from the pre-Ice Age Pliocene epoch; approximately 3 million years ago, a time before many modern marine mammals appeared. Baleen whales of this type were most common much earlier, about 10-15 million years ago. This graphic shows the geologic ages of Herpetocetus and various well known marine and land mammals from California, with a life restoration of Herpetocetus.
Credit: R.W. Boessenecker

Research from New Zealand's University of Otago detailing the fossil of a dwarf baleen whale from Northern California reveals that it avoided extinction far longer than previously thought.

Related Articles


Otago Department of Geology PhD student Robert Boessenecker has found that the fossil of the 4-5 meter long Herpetocetus, thought to be the last survivor of the primitive baleen whale family called cetotheres, may be as young as 700,000 years old.

Mr Boessenecker says the previously youngest-known fossils of this whale were from the pre-Ice Age Pliocene epoch; approximately 3 million years ago, a time before many modern marine mammals appeared. Baleen whales of this type were most common much earlier, about 10-15 million years ago.

"That this whale survived the great climatic and ecological upheavals of the Ice Age and almost into the modern era is very surprising as nearly all fossil marine mammals found after the end of the Pliocene appear identical to modern species.

"Other baleen whales underwent extreme body size increases in response to the new environment, but this dwarf whale must have still had a niche to inhabit which has only recently disappeared," he says.

The find indicates that the emergence of the modern marine mammals during the Ice Age may have happened more gradually than currently thought, he says.

The discovery also lends indirect support to a hypothesis about the modern pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) recently published by Mr Boessenecker's colleagues Professor Ewan Fordyce and Dr Felix Marx. The pair posited that this enigmatic Southern Ocean whale is not a true right whale but actually a member of the cetothere family and one of the closest relatives of Herpetocetus.

"If their hypothesis is correct, this latest discovery indicates that other close relatives of the pygmy right whale nearly survived to modern times within the Northern Hemisphere.

"In this light, Herpetocetus can be viewed as a Northern Hemisphere equivalent of the pygmy right whale: both are small-bodied with peculiar anatomy, possibly closely related, with feeding habits that are seemingly divergent from other baleen whales."

All baleen whales lack teeth and instead use baleen to strain small prey like krill and fish from seawater. Many whales, such as humpback and blue whales, gulp enormous amounts of water during lunges, while others such as gray whales filter prey from mud on the seafloor.

Owing to a strange jaw joint, Herpetocetus could not open its mouth more than 35 degrees, unlike any modern baleen whale.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Otago. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Robert W. Boessenecker. Pleistocene survival of an archaic dwarf baleen whale (Mysticeti: Cetotheriidae). Naturwissenschaften, 2013; 100 (4): 365 DOI: 10.1007/s00114-013-1037-2

Cite This Page:

University of Otago. "Dwarf whale survived well into Ice Age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404122106.htm>.
University of Otago. (2013, April 4). Dwarf whale survived well into Ice Age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404122106.htm
University of Otago. "Dwarf whale survived well into Ice Age." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404122106.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

AFP (Nov. 23, 2014) The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone -- at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May -- has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in. Duration: 01:32 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) For the first time Monterey Bay Aquarium recorded a video of the elusive, creepy and rarely seen anglerfish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Around the World Take Flight

Birds Around the World Take Flight

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 22, 2014) An imperial eagle equipped with a camera spreads its wings over London. It's just one of the many birds making headlines in this week's "animal roundup". Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins