The Science of Nature

, 102:70 | Cite as

Piscivory in a Miocene Cetotheriidae of Peru: first record of fossilized stomach content for an extinct baleen-bearing whale

  • Alberto CollaretaEmail author
  • Walter Landini
  • Olivier Lambert
  • Klaas Post
  • Chiara Tinelli
  • Claudio Di Celma
  • Daniele Panetta
  • Maria Tripodi
  • Piero A. Salvadori
  • Davide Caramella
  • Damiano Marchi
  • Mario Urbina
  • Giovanni Bianucci
Original Paper


Instead of teeth, modern mysticetes bear hair-fringed keratinous baleen plates that permit various bulk-filtering predation techniques (from subsurface skimming to lateral benthic suction and engulfment) devoted to various target prey (from small invertebrates to schooling fish). Current knowledge about the feeding ecology of extant cetaceans is revealed by stomach content analyses and observations of behavior. Unfortunately, no fossil stomach contents of ancient mysticetes have been described so far; the investigation of the diet of fossil baleen whales, including the Neogene family Cetotheriidae, remains thus largely speculative. We report on an aggregate of fossil fish remains found within a mysticete skeleton belonging to an undescribed late Miocene (Tortonian) cetotheriid from the Pisco Formation (Peru). Micro-computed tomography allowed us to interpret it as the fossilized content of the forestomach of the host whale and to identify the prey as belonging to the extant clupeiform genus Sardinops. Our discovery represents the first direct evidence of piscivory in an ancient edentulous mysticete. Since among modern mysticetes only Balaenopteridae are known to ordinarily consume fish, this fossil record may indicate that part of the cetotheriids experimented some degree of balaenopterid-like engulfment feeding. Moreover, this report corresponds to one of the geologically oldest records of Sardinops worldwide, occurring near the Tortonian peak of oceanic primary productivity and cooling phase. Therefore, our discovery evokes a link between the rise of Cetotheriidae; the setup of modern coastal upwelling systems; and the radiation of epipelagic, small-sized, schooling clupeiform fish in such highly productive environments.


Fossil stomach content Mysticeti Cetotheriidae Sardinops Miocene Micro-CT 



We thank W. Aguirre, A. J. Altamirano, E. Díaz, R. Salas-Gismondi, M. J. Laime-Molina, and R. Varas-Malca for their assistance at MUSM, Lima, and in the field and K. Gariboldi and A. Gioncada for their fruitful discussions. Comments by R. W. Boessenecker and two other anonymous reviewers improved the quality of this paper. This research was supported by a grant of the Italian Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca (PRIN Project 2012YJSBMK to G. B.), and by a National Geographic Society Committee for Research Exploration grant (9410–13 to G. B.).

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alberto Collareta
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Walter Landini
    • 1
  • Olivier Lambert
    • 3
  • Klaas Post
    • 4
  • Chiara Tinelli
    • 1
  • Claudio Di Celma
    • 5
  • Daniele Panetta
    • 6
  • Maria Tripodi
    • 6
  • Piero A. Salvadori
    • 6
  • Davide Caramella
    • 7
  • Damiano Marchi
    • 8
    • 9
  • Mario Urbina
    • 10
  • Giovanni Bianucci
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze della TerraUniversità di PisaPisaItaly
  2. 2.Dottorato Regionale in Scienze della Terra PegasoPisaItaly
  3. 3.Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de BelgiqueD.O. Terre et Histoire de la VieBrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Natuurhistorisch Museum RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Scuola di Scienze e TecnologieUniversità di CamerinoCamerinoItaly
  6. 6.Istituto di Fisiologia ClinicaConsiglio Nazionale delle RicerchePisaItaly
  7. 7.Radiologia Diagnostica e InterventisticaUniversità di PisaPisaItaly
  8. 8.Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversità di PisaPisaItaly
  9. 9.Evolutionary Studies InstituteUniversity of the WitwatersrandWitsSouth Africa
  10. 10.Departamento de Paleontologia de VertebradosMuseo de Historia Natural de la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San MarcosLimaPeru

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