A bizarre new toothed mysticete (Cetacea) from Australia and the early evolution of baleen whales

Erich McColl George Fitzgerald

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    Extant baleen whales (Cetacea, Mysticeti) are all large filter-feeding marine mammals that lack teeth as adults, instead possessing baleen, and feed on small marine animals in bulk. The early evolution of these superlative mammals, and their unique feeding method, has hitherto remained enigmatic. Here, I report a new toothed mysticete from the Late Oligocene of Australia that is more archaic than any previously described. Unlike all other mysticetes, this new whale was small, had enormous eyes and lacked derived adaptations for bulk filter-feeding. Several morphological features suggest that this mysticete was a macrophagous predator, being convergent on some Mesozoic marine reptiles and the extant leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx). It thus refutes the notions that all stem mysticetes were filter-feeders, and that the origins and initial radiation of mysticetes was linked to the evolution of filter-feeding. Mysticetes evidently radiated into a variety of disparate forms and feeding ecologies before the evolution of baleen or filter-feeding. The phylogenetic context of the new whale indicates that basal mysticetes were macrophagous predators that did not employ filter-feeding or echolocation, and that the evolution of characters associated with bulk filter-feeding was gradual.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages9
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1604
    Publication statusPublished - 2006

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