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 New insights into the ancestors of all complex life
29.05.2017 | University of Bristol

nachricht A 3-D look at the 2015 El Niño
29.05.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Strathclyde-led research develops world's highest gain high-power laser amplifier

The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.

The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New insights into the ancestors of all complex life

29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences

New photocatalyst speeds up the conversion of carbon dioxide into chemical resources

29.05.2017 | Life Sciences

NASA's SDO sees partial eclipse in space

29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>