Fossil meat eating ancestor of baleen whales

This video says about itself:

Join paleontologist Nick Pyenson in uncovering fossil whales in Panama, Canada, and Chile and probing their evolutionary mysteries using 3D laser scanning technology. Aired Jan. 16, 2014.

From Environmental News Network:

Blue whale ancestor was no gentle giant

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) – A ferocious-looking fossil with sharp teeth found in Australia shows that ancestors of today’s toothless blue whales were not all “gentle giants,” a report said on Wednesday.

The 25 million-year-old fossil is of an early type of baleen whale, a group including modern humpback whales, minke whales and blue whales that feed via baleen, comb-like plates in their mouths that filter plankton from sea water.

“This bizarre, new baleen whale did not even have baleen,” Erich Fitzgerald, of Monash University in Australia, said of the small whale that was probably up to 3.5 metres (11 ft 6 in) long.

“It had teeth and was a powerful predator that captured large fish, perhaps sharks, maybe even other whales,” he told Reuters.

“Some of the early baleen whales weren’t gentle giants.”

Most scientists have believed that baleen whales quickly evolved baleen for feeding on tiny fish and plankton after breaking from a common ancestor with toothed whales almost 40 million years ago.

Modern toothed whales include dolphins, killer whales and sperm whales — the species made famous as the bane of Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

“This rewrites the picture of baleen whale evolution,” Fitzgerald said.

The fossil was found near Jan Juc, a town in Victoria, south-eastern Australia, and dubbed “Janjucetus [hunderi].”

Its sharp teeth were about 3 cms (1.2 inches) long and it also had large eyes, apparently suited for hunting, according to Fitzgerald’s report, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Blue whales, which can exceed 150 tonnes and grow longer than 30 metres, are the largest creatures ever to inhabit the earth — bigger than any dinosaur.

Whales evolved from land mammals, where their closest relative is the hippopotamus.

Fossil Eocene whales of Egypt: here. And here. And here.

Sperm whales and jumbo squid: here.

And here.

Sperm whales and ambergris: here.

9 thoughts on “Fossil meat eating ancestor of baleen whales

  1. 2007-03-22 13:27

    Whale fossil found in vineyard

    Biggest ever skeleton ‘shows what makes Brunello special’

    FLORENCE (ANSA) – The biggest whale fossil ever found in Italy has emerged from one of the country’s finest vineyards.

    The five-million-year-old skeleton turned up on the property of Castello Banfi, makers of the famed Tuscan wine Brunello di Montalcino.

    Millions of years ago the whole of Tuscany was under water and today’s ground was the sea bed.

    Experts said they are “pretty sure” they will be able to recover the whole skeleton.

    “It’s in an excellent state of preservation,” said paleontologist Simone Casati, who was called in when vineyard workers saw unusual bones in the ground.

    Vineyard owner Cristina Mariani was also delighted with the find.

    “This discovery reminds us, once again, that much of our soil is composed of minerals and nutrients deposited over millions of years,” she said.

    “This is special earth. It gives complexity to our wines”.


  2. Hippo ancestry disputed
    Researchers rebut family tree involving hippos, whales and pigs in this week’s Nature

    Hippos spend lots of time in the water and now it turns out (or researchers argue), they are the closest living relative to whales. It also turns out, the two are swimming in a bit of controversy.

    Jessica Theodor, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary, and her colleague Jonathan Geisler, associate professor at Georgia Southern University are disputing a recent study that creates a different family tree for the hippo.

    That research was published in Nature in December 2007 by J. G. M. Thewissen, a professor at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, and his colleagues. Thewissen says that whales are more closely linked to an extinct pig-like animal, often known as India’s pig or Indohyus, while hippos are closely related to living pigs.

    But this isn’t accurate according to Theodor.

    “What Thewissen is saying is that Indohyus is the closest relative of whales – and we agree. Where we think he is wrong, is that he is saying that that hippos are more closely related to true pigs than they are to whales,” says Theodor. “This contradicts most of the data from DNA from the last 12 or 13 years. Those data place hippos as the closest living relative to whales.”

    She says Thewissen did not use DNA evidence, instead used fossil evidence alone to create a family tree and reach the conclusion that hippos have more in common with pigs than whales.

    “And the reason their tree is so different is simple: by excluding all the DNA information they left out all the data that shows a strong relationship between whales and hippos.”

    Theodor’s rebuttal of Thewissen’s work will appear in Nature on Thursday, March 19.

    The controversy began after the new fossil of Indohyus, was discovered and written about by Thewissen and his group. This animal lived around 48 million years ago, lived in the water and fed on land.

    When biologists study family trees, they traditionally rely on morphology, in other words, the shape of bones. More recently, the DNA revolution means that scientists can use DNA data as another tool to reconstruct family trees, but DNA data can’t be used all the time because DNA is not available for most fossils.

    “In order to get the best understanding, researchers combine the two sources of data in a single analysis. But what Thewissen and his group did, was leave one of the major ones out,” says Theodor.

    Before the widespread use of DNA data, hippos had been thought to be closely related to pigs, but DNA data show that whales are closely related to hippos. Geisler and Theodor argue that leaving out the DNA data not only ignores important information, it implies that the evolution of swimming evolved independently in hippos and whales, when it may have evolved only once in a common ancestor.


  3. Google Earth may help shed light on origins of African wildlife
    ANI Wednesday 29th April, 2009

    Washington, April 29 : A scientist has used the help of Google Earth in discovering a trove of mammal fossils that may shed light on the origins of African wildlife.

    The scientist in question is University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich, who learned of a whale fossil from Egypt that had been discovered in a most unconventional way.

    At a stonecutting yard in Italy, masons had noticed what looked like cross-sections of a skeleton in slabs cut from a huge hunk of limestone imported from Egypt.

    Paleontologist Giovanni Bianucci of the University of Pisa recognized these as fossilized remains of a whale that lived in Egypt 40 million years ago, when the region was covered by ocean.

    Gingerich wanted to visit the site where the limestone was quarried, but the exact location was something of a mystery.

    Bianucci had reported that the countertop whale came from a site near the Egyptian city of Sheikh Fadl, but a colleague in Egypt told Gingerich the quarry was probably farther east.

    Instead of setting out blindly across the desert, Gingerich sat down at his computer and clicked on Google Earth.

    After locating Sheikh Fadl, he scanned eastward until he found a range of limestone bluffs trailing across the desert like the backbone of some enormous serpent.

    Continuing his virtual expedition, Gingerich followed the bluffs, looking for roads branching off the main highway that might lead to quarries.

    Finally, about 75 miles east of Sheikh Fadl, he came across a road that traveled north to a deeply pocked area that just had to be a cluster of quarries.

    Through associates in Egypt, Gingerich made arrangements to travel to Khasm el Raqaba, the area he had located on Google Earth.

    “Sure enough, when we got there, there was a huge quarry operation with trucks everywhere, blasting out blocks of limestone,” he said.

    When Gingerich scanned the scene, he saw bands of red in the white limestone walls of the quarry, which represented layers of loose soil that were blown into ancient caves.

    “Suddenly it dawned on me: There should be animals preserved in that sediment, too, because caves often act as traps,” Gingerich said.

    When he searched at the base of one rock outcrop, there were tiny bones everywhere.

    The bones and teeth-remains of small mammals that lived in the early Miocene Epoch, some 18 to 20 million years ago-are the first small mammal fossils of that age to be found in Egypt.

    They may even represent some of the first mammals to migrate from Asia to Africa when the land bridge between the two continents first formed.

    “It’s likely that animals moving from Asia to Africa passed through the Khasm el Raqaba area,” Gunnell said.


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