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17 May 2017

Fossil Discovered In Peru Sheds New Light On The Origin Of Baleen Whales

Scientists have discovered the earliest fossil remains of whales related to baleen whales which lived 36 million years ago. The fossils were found at Playa Media Luna in Peru in South America.

We know that baleen whales, such as blue and humpback whales, shared a common ancestor with toothed whales, which used teeth to grab its prey. This whale, named Mystacodon selensis, was around four metres in length and still had teeth. However, analysis of its skull, jaw and teeth indicates it fed by straining its prey before expelling the water, similar to how baleen whales feed. 

One unexpected discovery from this latest fossil find is that it appears to have still had small limbs sticking out from its body. It had previously been thought that both branches of the family tree toothed whales and baleen whales - had lost their limbs during evolution before splitting into 2 separate evolutionary branches.

Illustration of ancient baleen whale

Artistic illustration of how the whale may have looked alongside fish and eagle ray species whose remains have been found near its skeleton. Illustration A. Gennari.

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