27 Million Year Old Baleen Whale Is Among Oldest Of Its Kind

Posted: Apr 21 2018, 2:26am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 21 2018, 2:33am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
27 Million Year Old Baleen Whale is Among Oldest of its Kind
Credit: Chris Gaskin, Geology Museum, University of Otago

The new genus and species of extinct baleen whale is based on a skull and associated bones unearthed from New Zealand's Hakataramea Valley

Paleontologists have discovered fossilized remains of a new baleen whale species in Hakataramea Valley of New Zealand. The fossil is at least 27.5 million year old and represents one of the oldest species of baleen whales.

Baleen whales are some of the largest animals on Earth which are characterized by their blowholes and baleen plates. These whales are widely distributed and are known to have diverse population. The new find not only expands the number of baleen whale's species but also provides more insight into the prehistoric ancestors of modern day whales.

The discovery was based on a skull and other bones unearthed from the Kokoamu Greensand, a famous fossil-bearing rock formation from the Oligocene period. The site was once an archipelago surrounded by shallow seas. The new species has been named Toipahautea waitaki, which translates in Māori as a "baleen origin whale from the Waitaki region.”

“This is a pretty old whale that goes almost half-way back to the age of the dinosaurs. We are tracking whale history back through time," said Professor Ewan Fordyce at University of Otago's Department of Geology.

"This newly-named whale lived about 27.5 million years ago. It's about as old a common ancestor as we have for the living baleen whales like the minke whales and the right whales."

The fossil of baleen whale was actually unearthed 30 years ago in January 1988, but it was only recently noticed that it is an entirely new species. The skull of the specimen was about one meter long and the body about five meters, which makes it a relatively small species. The species is so different that it has been assigned to a new genus. It is certainly one of the earliest baleen whales if not the oldest.

Professor Ewan Fordyce says. "We are pretty sure there are some species (of baleen whale) that will be older than these. But right now it anchors the modern baleen whale lineage to at least 27.5 million years."

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