Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dwarf Whale Survived Well Into Ice Age


Apr. 4, 2013 — 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.

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.


No comments:

Post a comment

You only need to enter your comment once! Comments will appear once they have been moderated. This is so as to stop the would-be comedian who has been spamming the comments here with inane and often offensive remarks. You know who you are!

Related Posts with Thumbnails

ShareThis