Rare whale fossil sets jawbones wagging at Museum Victoria


Share post:

A rare fossilised whale skull found by chance deep in the remote waters of the Southern Ocean has been donated to Museum Victoria.

Rare whale fossil sets jawbones wagging at Museum Victoria
Palaeontologist Erich Fitzgerald with the fossilised whale skull
[Credit: Penny Stephens]

Picked up by a commercial fishing trawler from more than a kilometre beneath the surface, the 65-centimetre section of skull once belonged to a beaked whale the size of a large dolphin.

Museum Victoria palaeontologist Erich Fitzgerald said though missing the rear end of the skull and the lower jaw, the fossil was significant because most marine fossils in museum collections were from shallow coastal rocks on the continental shelf.

This means that scientists know a lot about the marine life close to shore, with many deep-sea creatures remaining a bit of a mystery.

”The beaked whales are particularly enigmatic as they rarely come to shore,” he said. ”They are the most poorly known group of whales,” he said.

Some species of beaked whales are known to live in waters up to two kilometres deep.

Considered the second-most diverse group of whales, there are at least 20 known species of beaked whales. However, Dr Fitzgerald said there were likely to be many more, with new species still being discovered.

It is not yet clear what species of beaked whale the fossil belonged to – or even if it might be an extinct species.

The age of the fossil is also still to be established, with museum scientists testing the sediment found attached to the fossil and analysing its mineral composition.

Dr Fitzgerald estimated the fossil was less than 10 million years old – which would fall within an evolutionary important time for whales when many species began diverging.

”If we want to understand the history of the living species of beaked whale, we need species from that window of time because it’s within that five to 15-million-year timeframe when it’s thought that a lot of the living species started to split off from one another.”

The fossil was discovered by the SV Austral Leader 2 while fishing for Patagonian toothfish near Heard Island, a volcanic island that is part of Australian territory, 4000 kilometres south-west of Perth.

Author: Bridie Smith | Source: The Age [April 14, 2014]



Related articles

Archaeologists conduct excavations in ancient Iranian salt mines

Researchers from Iran and Germany began a fresh round of excavations in Chehrabad Salt Mine in the northwestern...

Shipwreck located on bottom of Lake Geneva

The Russian submersibles involved in EPFL’s elemo project have discovered a new wreck on the bottom of the...

Global warming may give oceans the ‘sound’ of the Cretaceous

Global temperatures directly affect the acidity of the ocean, which in turn changes the acoustical properties of sea...

New research shines light on surprising numbers, evolutionary variety of bioluminescent ocean fish

A study appearing in the journal PLOS ONE this week shows that bioluminescence -- the production of light...

Cirencester Roman amphitheatre plans unveiled

Plans to revamp Cirencester's Roman amphitheatre and surrounding area have been unveiled. The town council, which has taken...

Mineral diversity clue to early Earth chemistry

Mineral evolution is a new way to look at our planet's history. It's the study of the increasing...

Scientific collaborative publishes landmark study on the evolution of insects

An international team of more than 100 researchers--including Dr. Michelle Trautwein of the California Academy of Sciences--has published...

The tholos tomb at the site of Amblianos, Amphissa, in Central Greece

In 2014, during a public irrigation project, the local Archaeological Service at Phocis excavated a tholos tomb, in...