, Volume 100, Issue 4, pp 365–371 | Cite as

Pleistocene survival of an archaic dwarf baleen whale (Mysticeti: Cetotheriidae)

  • Robert W. BoesseneckerEmail author
Original Paper


Pliocene baleen whale assemblages are characterized by a mix of early records of extant mysticetes, extinct genera within modern families, and late surviving members of the extinct family Cetotheriidae. Although Pleistocene baleen whales are poorly known, thus far they include only fossils of extant genera, indicating Late Pliocene extinctions of numerous mysticetes alongside other marine mammals. Here a new fossil of the Late Neogene cetotheriid mysticete Herpetocetus is reported from the Lower to Middle Pleistocene Falor Formation of Northern California. This find demonstrates that at least one archaic mysticete survived well into the Quaternary Period, indicating a recent loss of a unique niche and a more complex pattern of Plio–Pleistocene faunal overturn for marine mammals than has been previously acknowledged. This discovery also lends indirect support to the hypothesis that the pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) is an extant cetotheriid, as it documents another cetotheriid nearly surviving to modern times.


Cetacea Mysticeti Cetotheriidae Pleistocene California 



I thank R. Bushell for donating the fossil to Sierra College; S. Boessenecker, T. Deméré, J. El Adli, R. E. Fordyce, J. Geisler, F. Marx, and C.H. Tsai for comments and discussion; D. Bohaska, G. Bromm, T. Deméré, J. El Adli, R. Hilton, P. Holroyd, N. Pyenson, and K. Randall for access to collections; R. Hilton for facilitating a loan of the specimen; T. Deméré, J. El Adli, M. Bosselaers, and O. Lambert for photographs of herpetocetine fossils. I thank J.H. Geisler, N.D. Pyenson, and an anonymous reviewer for their comments which improved this paper. The author was supported by the University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship during part of this study.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.University of California Museum of PaleontologyUniversity of OtagoBerkeleyUSA

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