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Ancient Whales

February 27, 2013

A newly discovered but long-extinct whale species may have eaten sharks.



Toothy whale ancestors. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The largest animals that have ever lived – the baleen whales – use filter feeding to gather food, instead of teeth. But their ancestors, the primitive mysticete whales, had a full set of chompers. Now, scientists at the Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Curation Center in California have identified four new species of these ancient whales. Their diet probably consisted mainly of fish, according to paleontologist Meredith Rivin explains.

MEREDITH RIVIN (Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Curation Center):

The most surprising animal we got – we nicknamed him Willy. He had a 5 foot skull with very very large teeth and these teeth were worn down even though this was a relatively young animal, so we’re trying to figure out what he was doing to wear down those teeth.


She says some modern killer whales show similar tooth wear from biting into the rough skin of sharks, so it’s possible that Willy ate sharks, too. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Teeth of Morawanocetus, an ancestor of baleen whales. (Cooper Center)