Trending Topics

Fossil Baleen Whale Fills Evolutionary Gap; Explains How Modern Whales Lost Their Teeth

Dec 02, 2015 03:11 PM EST
Baleen Whale
A new fossil species of baleen whales sheds light on how suction feeding allowed the large sea creatures to evolve without teeth.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

A fossil from a new species of baleen whales that swam through the North Pacific Ocean between 30 and 33 million years ago was recently recovered from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The newcomer, subsequently dubbed Fucaia buelli, is shedding light on the ways ancient toothed whales transitioned to modern baleen filter feeders, according to researchers from New Zealand's University of Otago.

"We think that Fucaia was similar to modern dolphins in capturing its prey using its teeth and perhaps strong suction. Suction feeding likely enabled early whales to move from a tooth-based feeding style to filter-feeding, by allowing them to capture smaller prey items than teeth alone could handle," Dr. Felix Marx, co-author of the recent study, explained in a news release.

The partial fossil skull and teeth revealed distinctive wear patterns, indicating Fucaia likely chewed its food. On the other hand, modern baleen whales use comb-like baleen plats to filter krill from the surrounding water. Ultimately, suction feeding behaviors could have eventually led to present-day filter feeding. 

"This behavior may have prompted the evolution of baleen from the enlarged gums, possibly as a more efficient way to expel the water sucked in with the food. As the prey became smaller, teeth became increasingly obsolete and, ultimately, were lost completely in modern baleen whales," Professor Ewan Fordyce, one of the study researchers, added.

Fucaia buelli belongs in a well-known extinct group, the family Aetiocetidae. Based on the fossil evidence, researchers suggest the ancient animals were active hunters with small bodies and a limited range. Unlike modern whales, Fucaia would not have performed seasonal migrations.  

Their findings were recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Related Articles

Dinosaur Footprints Reveal Larger Antecedents Once Trudged Through Scottish Lagoons

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

© 2018 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation

Email Newsletter
About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms&Conditions
Real Time Analytics