Aussie whale fossil suggests the worlds’s largest animals first became big in southern oceans

Embargoed until: Publicly released:

A 19 million-year-old whale fossil found on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia is forcing scientists to rethink how and when the world’s largest animals, the baleen whales, first evolved their huge size. It was previously thought that baleen whales, such as the blue whale, evolved large size about 3 million years ago, but this new fossil is far older and from an animal that would have been 9 metres long. The researchers say this new fossil suggests that larger baleen whales first emerged in the Southern Hemisphere.

Journal/conference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Link to research (DOI): 10.1098/rspb.2023.2177

Organisation/s: Monash University, Museums Victoria, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, University of Otago

Funder: J.P.R. was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery
Project (grant no. DP180101797) and an Engineering and Physical
Sciences Research Council UKRI Fellowship (grant no. EP/X021238/
1). R.J.D. was funded by an Australian Government RTP Stipend
scholarship, and a Robert Blackwood Partnership scholarship. Parts
of this research were supported by an Australian Research Council
Linkage Project LP150100403 to A.R.E. and E.M.G.F.

Media release

From: The Royal Society

Southbound and down – Giant baleen whales emerged from a cold southern cradle
URL after publication: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2023.2177

Summary: Baleen whales (mysticetes) include the largest animals ever. Previous research has established that baleen whales evolved large size ~3 million years ago, but have not addressed where in the world large baleen whales originated. This study describes the fossil remains of a ~19 million year old, nine metre long baleen whale from Australia. Whales of this size were previously thought to have evolved much more recently. This new fossil suggests that larger baleen whales first emerged in the Southern Hemisphere.

Giant baleen whales emerged from a cold southern cradle

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Summary: Baleen whales (mysticetes) include the largest animals ever. Previous research has established that baleen whales evolved large size ~3 million years ago, but have not addressed where in the world large baleen whales originated. This study describes the fossil remains of a ~19 million year old, nine metre long baleen whale from Australia. Whales of this size were previously thought to have evolved much more recently. This new fossil suggests that larger baleen whales first emerged in the Southern Hemisphere.

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