Fossil tells a whale of a tale about evolution

Carlos Peredo with fossils

Carlos Mauricio Peredo, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History, shows off a 33 million-year-old whale fossil that has been newly classified with the name Maiabalaena nesbittae. (Smithsonian Photo)

A whale that lived 33 million years ago when present-day Oregon was part of the ocean floor has been newly named after a curator at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.

And Elizabeth Nesbitt’s whale isn’t your typical cetacean: An analysis of the fossil, published in the Nov. 29 issue of Current Biology, suggests that Maiabalaena nesbittae bridged a gap between species of whales that had teeth and species that have a different mouth-feeding mechanism known as baleen.

“For the first time, we can now pin down the origin of filter-feeding, which is one of the major innovations in whale history,” study co-author Nicholas Pyenson, the National Museum of Natural History’s curator of fossil marine mammals and an affiliate curator at the Burke Museum, said in a news release.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Award-winning science writer, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
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