Monday, February 18, 2013

Four new whale species from California

Finding a new species in palentology, just like finding a new living animal, is painstaking stuff.  In paleontology, first you have to find the remains, then you have to excavate them (which can take years), then you have to get them in the lab and prepare them (also possibly years), and then you have to do laborious comparisons with other species' remains to see if what you have is new.  That's why it's so remarkable that, from the site of a single human activity in California (cutting through old rock to make a new road) we have four new species of whales. According to paleontologist Meredith Rivin of the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center in Fullerton, California, these are dated 17 to 19 million years ago (the Miocene epoch). These four species collectively represent the youngest known fossils of the toothed mysticetes - the animals that lost those teeth and developed into today's baleen whale.  (I didn't know that fin whales still develop proto-teeth in the womb before reabsorbing them and growing their baleen!)

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