Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ancient New Zealand 'Dawn Whale' identified by Otago researchers

19.11.2014

University of Otago palaeontologists are rewriting the history of New Zealand's ancient whales by describing a previously unknown genus of fossil baleen whales and two species within it.

Otago Department of Geology PhD student Robert Boessenecker and his supervisor Professor Ewan Fordyce have named the new genus Tohoraata, which translates as 'Dawn Whale' in Māori.


University of Otago researchers have described a new genus of ancient baleen whales that they have named Tohoraata (a Māori term which can be translated as Dawn Whale). The genus belongs to the toothless filter-feeding family Eomysticetidae, and it is the first time members of this family have been identified in the Southern Hemisphere. They named the younger of the two fossil whales, which may be a descendent of the elder, as Tohoraata raekohao (pictured). Raekohao means 'holes in the forehead'. Researcher Robert Boessenecker says this whale lived between 26-25 million years ago and vaguely resembles a minke whale but was more slender and serpent-like. Its skull, which contains a number of holes near its eye sockets for arteries, was probably about two metres in length and the whole animal would have been eight metres long.

Credit: Robert Boessenecker

The two whales, which lived between 27-25 million years ago, were preserved in a rock formation near Duntroon in North Otago. At that time the continent of Zealandia was largely or completely under water and the whales were deposited on a continental shelf that was perhaps between 50 to 100 metres deep.

The new genus that the fossils represent belongs to the toothless filter-feeding family Eomysticetidae, and it is the first time members of this family have been identified in the Southern Hemisphere.

They named the younger of the two fossil whales, which may be a descendent of the elder, as Tohoraata raekohao. Raekohao means 'holes in the forehead'.

Mr Boessenecker says this whale lived between 26-25 million years ago and vaguely resembles a minke whale but was more slender and serpent-like. Its skull, which contains a number of holes near its eye sockets for arteries, was probably about two metres in length and the whole animal would have been eight metres long.

"This new species differs from modern baleen whales in having a smaller braincase and a skull that is generally much more primitive, with substantially larger attachments for jaw muscles. The lower jaw retains a very large cavity indicating that its hearing capabilities were similar to archaic whales."

The researchers also determined that the older fossil whale from the site, which was collected in 1949 and named in 1956, had been misidentified as belonging to the genus Mauicetus, a more advanced type of whale called a "cetothere". They have now changed its name from Mauicetus waitakiensis to Tohoraata waitakiensis.

Mr Boessenecker says this particular fossil had been poorly understood for more than 50 years and only with this study was it proven not to be from its originally attributed genus. The two whales have now become the first eomysticetids to be reported outside of South Carolina, USA, and Japan.

"Researchers contend with confusing or surprising fossils in museum collections all the time. Often, the best way to solve these mysteries is to go out and dig up another one, which is what Professor Fordyce and his colleagues did in 1993 when they collected the partial skull of Tohoraata raekohao."

Eomysticetids occupy an important position in the evolutionary tree of cetaceans: they are the earliest toothless baleen-bearing cetaceans, and in many characteristics are intermediate between toothed baleen whales and modern baleen whales, he says.

"They are the first baleen whales to have been completely toothless, and are therefore the earliest known cetaceans to have wholly relied upon filter feeding."

This study formed part of Mr Boessenecker's PhD thesis and was supported by a University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship. The Tohoraata raekohao fossil was collected during fieldwork funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society.

Robert Boessenecker | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Stagnation in the South Pacific Explains Natural CO2 Fluctuations
23.02.2018 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

nachricht First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals
22.02.2018 | University of Arizona

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>