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 Clear as mud: Desiccation cracks help reveal the shape of water on Mars
20.04.2018 | Geological Society of America

nachricht Hurricane Harvey: Dutch-Texan research shows most fatalities occurred outside flood zones
19.04.2018 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Start of work for the world's largest electric truck

20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

Atoms may hum a tune from grand cosmic symphony

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>