New Zealand Scientists Discover Ancient Toothless Whale
Scientists from the University of Otago have discovered two previously unknown ancient whale species, rewriting the history of marine mammals in the Southern Hemisphere.
The 25 million year old whales, dubbed Tohoraata raekohao and Tohoraata waitakiensis, translating to the Dawn Whale, measured about eight feet in length.
They belong to the Eomysticetidae family – the earliest toothless filter-feeders.
These two whales are the first eomysticetids to be found outside the U.S. and Japan.
This suggests the animals roamed the Southern seas and were probably distributed worldwide, according to the researchers.
The fossils were found around 40 years apart in a rock formation in the country’s North Otago district. When the first was discovered in 1949 researchers misidentified it.
Eomysticetids fill an important spot in the evolutionary tree of marine mammals, bridging the gap between toothed baleen whales such as the extinct Mammaladon and modern baleens such as the gray whale.
“They are the first baleen whales to have been completely toothless, and are therefore the earliest known cetaceans to have wholly relied upon filter feeding,” Robert Boessenecker, a Ph.D. student in the University of Otago’s geology department and one of the researchers, said in a written statement.
Mr Broessenecker conducted his research alongside supervisor Professor Ewan Fordyce.
A study describing the new findings was published online on November 13 in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.
Image: Illustration of Tohoraata raekohao, a newly identified extinct species of baleen whale. Robert Boessenecker.
Original story by Macrina Cooper-White, The Huffington Post, 19 November 2014