Thursday, September 1, 2011

Recent fieldwork in the Purisima Formation, Part 3: mysticete earbones and wildlife

Hey Folks,

Sorry for yet another delay - I've been pretty busy, working on several manuscripts (a thesis-length paper on the Purisima Formation marine mammals from my undergraduate field area in Halfmoon Bay, a new manuscript on shark bitten cetacean bones, and my contribution to a paper of the mollusk and vertebrate assemblage of a late Miocene marine locality in Sonoma County), applying to the University of Otago Doctoral Program to work with R. Ewan Fordyce (in New Zealand), and digging up a new right whale fossil from the Purisima Formation. There are plenty of topics I have thought of to write about on here, but not enough time!

Continuing on with my series of posts about recent Purisima Fm. fieldwork with Dick Hilton, I've written a little about a new mysticete earbone. There are lots of mysticete earbones from the Purisima Fm., from number of different taxa, including cetotheriids, many balaenopterids, and balaenids. Dick had originally spotted this specimen during a field trip earlier in the spring, but was unable to collect it. On our first day of our expedition back in late May, we spotted it easily, and given the easier tides, we were able to quickly excavate it. I was immediately struck with the size of the specimen, and in particular a large knob called the dorsal posterior prominence. This very distinctive earbone morphology is characteristic of the extinct rorqual "Megaptera" miocaena, which Remington Kellogg described in the 1920's from the late Miocene Sisquoc Formation of southern California. Several authors including Deméré et al. (2005) and Dooley et al. (2004) have suggested that it does not belong in Megaptera at all, and that it requires a new genus to be erected. However, it has appeared in some phylogenetic analyses (Bisconti, 2008; Marx, 2010) as a sister taxon to modern Megaptera novaeangliae (the modern Humpback Whale for the uninitiated). It really needs to be reanalyzed and probably redescribed.

Fossil tympanics of "Megaptera" miocaena from the upper Miocene San Mateo Formation (left) and Purisima Formation (right).

Fossils of this taxon are now known from Tortonian and Messinian (6-11 Million Years Old) strata in California, including the Sisquoc Formation, Purisima Formation (two localities), and the Santa Margarita Sandstone (a new specimen of which will soon be donated to UCMP). Other vertebrates from this time period include the dusignathine walruses Pontolis and Gomphotaria, the odontocetes Denebola, Parapontoporia, Albireo, and Piscolithax, as well as other mysticetes such as Nannocetus and Herpetocetus; all of these taxa are now known from multiple strata of this age, suggesting a distinct, and well-represented late Miocene marine mammal fauna from the eastern North Pacific.

Lastly, we spotted some wildlife during the trip, the photos of which are below.

Northern elephant seals spotted from the point.

A peregrine falcon near a nest at the edge of a cliff.

A coyote that ran along the beach while we stopped for a snack.


Bisconti, M. 2008. Morphology and phylogenetic relationships of a new eschrichtiid genus (Cetacea: Mysticeti) from the Early Pliocene of northern Italy. Biol J Linn Soc 153: 161–186.

Deméré, T.A., A. Berta, and M.R. McGowan. 2005. The taxonomic and evolutionary history of fossil and modern balaenopteroid mysticetes. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 12:99–143.

Dooley, A. C., Jr., Fraser, N. C., and Luo, Z.-X. 2004. The earliest known member of the rorqual-gray whale clade (Mammalia, Cetacea). J. Vertebr. Paleontol. 24: 453–463.

Kellogg, R. 1922. Description of the skull of Megaptera miocaena, a fossil humpback whale from the Miocene diatomaceous earth of Lompoc, California. Proc. US Natl. Mus. 61: 1–18.

Marx, F. G. 2010. The more the merrier? A large cladistic analysis of mysticetes,
and comments on the transition from teeth to baleen. J Mammal Evol 18:


BRAN said...

Hi¡ sorry of having respond earlier, thanks for your advices, that ziiphid you send me its bizarre, i read about some south african ones that seems got very large...baleen whales, do you know if that giant lompoc whale has a name already? how big is the one these timpanics?

Robert Boessenecker said...

Are you referring to the lompoc baleen whale collected by the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History? If so, I'm not even certain that specimen has been studied yet, let alone prepared.

There's a 5cm scale bar in the photo - I haven't measured these specimens.