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New Prehistoric Whale Genus Identified in New Zealand


I love whales. Like, I really love whales. Gianfrancesco Genoso can attest to that. So when he sent me this news story from New Zealand I had to share it with the world.

Scientists at the University of Otago have described a new genus of prehistoric whale in New Zealand. It’s called Tohoraata, which means “Dawn Whale” in Maori, and it belonged to the family Eomysticetidae. This family has the distinction of being the first baleen whales to be wholly toothless, and were therefore the first whales to rely completely on filter-feeding. Eomysticetids thus occupied an evolutionary niche between primitive toothed baleen whales and modern baleen whales and had traits of both types.

The researchers identified two species within Tohoraata. The younger whale, which had lived 25 or 26 million years ago, was called T. raekohao, with the species names meaning “holes in the forehead.” Its skull alone was six and half feet long; the whole animal was around 26 feet long. It resembled a minke whale, but was more slender and serpentine. Its braincase was smaller than that of modern whales, while its skull had larger attachments for jaw muscles.

The older fossil had been collected in 1949 and later misidentified as a member of the genus Mauicetus. It has since been renamed T. waitakiensis. It might have been an ancestor of T. raekohao and predated it by about a million years. The Tohoraata whales are the first eomysticetids to be found outside of Japan or the eastern United States.

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