Paleontologists have discovered fossilized remains of a new baleen whale species in Hakataramea Valley of New Zealand. The fossil is at least 27.5 million year old and represents one of the oldest species of baleen whales.
Researchers named the new species as Toipahautea waitaki, which translates into “baleen whale from the Waitaki region”. The fossil was found in January 1988 about 30 years ago, but researchers could only carry out an in-depth study recently.
The creature lived during the oligocene period about 33.9 million to 23 million years ago when New Zealand was an island archipelago surrounded by groundwater.
Ewan Fordyce, from Otago University, Geological Department, and colleagues who studied the fossil said the elections are relatively old, which returns almost halfway back to the age of dinosaurs.
Professor Fordyce says the discovery is significant in New Zealand’s fossil history.
“This is a pretty old whale that goes almost half-way back to the age of the dinosaurs. We are tracking whale history back through time,” Professor Fordyce explains.
“This newly-named whale lived about 27.5 million years ago. It’s about as old a common ancestor as we have for the living baleen whales like the minke whales and the right whales.”
“People look at the fossil record and believe that many animals are early stories filled with giants, but not for whales. It’s only During the recent geological times, whales have reached really big sizes,” Fordyce says.
Modern baleen whales are filter-feeding marine giants and contain many of the biggest known whales like puckback, bowhead and minkevalar.
Most of these modern species are feed specialists.. The humpback and blue whales, for instance, are known for gulf-feeding. They take mouthfuls of water and krill before squeezing the water out. Right whales, on the other hand, use skin-feeding. They swim with their mouths open at the surface so they can strain out their prey.
The researchers found that the jaws in Toipahautea waitaki were long, narrow and toothless, indicating that they also fed in a similar manner as today chooses. However, they believe that the old baleen whales, like Toipahautea, were probably generalists who used a number of feeding styles.
“Late Oligocene mystics vary significantly in jaw shape and chinese, tooth form and function and development of the baleen, which involves a wide range of raptorial, suctorial and filter feeding behavior,” the researchers wrote in his study, published in the magazine Royal Society Open Science April 18th.
The researchers were not able to determine how this whale died. Professor Fordyce says it could have been attacked by a shark, stranded on a beach or died of disease. When it died, it sank to the bottom of the sea floor with its skeleton falling apart and becoming a hub for coral and other organisms to grow on.
Professor Fordyce expects the ancient whales’ history books may keep being rewritten in years to come