The family Cetotheriidae has played a major role in recent discussions of baleen whale phylogenetics. Within this group, the enigmatic, monotypic Metopocetus durinasus has been interpreted as transitional between herpetocetines and other members of the family, but so far has been restricted to a single, fragmentary cranium of uncertain provenance and age. Here, we expand the genus and shed new light on its phylogenetic affinities and functional morphology by describing Metopocetus hunteri sp. nov. from the Late Miocene of the Netherlands. Unlike the holotype of M. durinasus, the material described here is confidently dated and preserves both the tympanic bulla and additional details of the basicranium. M. hunteri closely resembles M. durinasus, differing primarily in its somewhat less distally expanded compound posterior process of the tympanoperiotic. Both species are characterised by the development of an unusually large fossa on the ventral surface of the paroccipital process, which extends anteriorly on to the compound posterior process and completely floors the facial sulcus. In life, this enlarged fossa may have housed the posterior sinus and/or the articulation of the stylohyal. Like other cetotheriids, Metopocetus also bears a well-developed, posteriorly-pointing dorsal infraorbital foramen near the base of the ascending process of the maxilla, the precise function of which remains unclear.
- Baleen whales
- Late Miocene
- Paroccipital concavity
- Primary dorsal infraorbital foramen