A new Early Oligocene toothed ‘baleen’ whale (Mysticeti: Aetiocetidae) from western North America: One of the oldest and the smallest

Felix G. Marx, Cheng Hsiu Tsai, R. Ewan Fordyce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Archaic toothed mysticetes represent the evolutionary transition from raptorial to bulk filter feeding in baleen whales. Aetiocetids, in particular, preserve an intermediate morphological stage in which teeth functioned alongside a precursor of baleen, the hallmark of all modern mysticetes. To date, however, aetiocetids are almost exclusively Late Oligocene and coeval with both other toothed mysticetes and fully fledged filter feeders. By contrast, reports of cetaceans from the Early Oligocene remain rare, leaving the origins of aetiocetids, and thus of baleen, largely in the dark. Here, we report a new aetiocetid,Fucaia buelli, from the earliest Oligocene (ca33–31 Ma) of western North America. The new material narrows the temporal gap between aetiocetids and the oldest known mysticete,Llanocetus(ca34 Ma). The specimen preserves abundant morphological detail relating to the phylogenetically informative ear bones (otherwise poorly documented in this family), the hyoid apparatus and much of the (heterodont) dentition.Fucaiacomprises some of the smallest known mysticetes, comparable in size with the smallest odontocetes. Based on their phylogenetic relationships and dental and mandibular morphology, including tooth wear patterns, we propose that aetiocetids were suction-assisted raptorial feeders and interpret this strategy as a crucial, intermediary step, enabling the transition from raptorial to filter feeding. Following this line of argument, a combination of raptorial and suction feeding would have been ancestral to all toothed mysticetes, and possibly even baleen whales as a whole.

Original languageEnglish
Article number150476
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Volume2
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Aetiocetidae
  • Baleen
  • Baleen whale
  • Filter feeding
  • Mysticeti
  • Suction feeding

Cite this