Skip to main content

An Early Pleistocene gray whale (Cetacea: Eschrichtiidae) from the Rio Dell Formation of northern California

  • Cheng-Hsiu Tsai (a1) and Robert W. Boessenecker (a1) (a2)

The earliest fossil gray whale (Eschrichtius) from the eastern North Pacific is reported from the Lower Pleistocene Rio Dell Formation of Humboldt County, Northern California. This specimen, a tympanic bulla and posterior process, is identical in morphology to extant Eschrichtius robustus and differs from Pliocene Eschrichtius sp. from the western North Pacific (Japan). Thus, it suggests that the modern bulla morphology of the gray whale had been acquired by the Early Pleistocene. The absence of fossil Eschrichtius in the Pliocene of the eastern North Pacific may indicate that the extant gray whale lineage originated in the western North Pacific during the Pliocene before invading the eastern North Pacific during the Early Pleistocene. Further discoveries of Plio-Pleistocene gray whale fossils will help test this hypothesis and properly interpret the evolutionary history of eschrichtiid clade.

Hide All
Andrews R. C., 1914, Monographs of the Pacific Cetacea. I. The California gray whale (Rhachianectes glaucus Cope). Its history, habits, external anatomy, osteology and relationships: Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, v. 1, 227287.
Barnes L.G., and McLeod S.A., 1984, The fossil record and phyletic relationships of gray whales, in Jones, M.L., Swartz, S. L., and Leatherwood S., eds., The Gray Whale. Academic Press, p. 332.
Bisconti M., 2008, Morphology and phylogenetic relationships of a new eschrichtiid genus (Cetacea: Mysticeti) from the early Pliocene of northern Italy: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, v. 153, p. 161186, doi: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2008.00374.x.
Bisconti M., Lambert O., and Bosselaers M., 2013, Taxonomic revision of Isocetus depauwi (Mammalia, Cetacea, Mysticeti) and the phylogenetic relationships of archaic “cetothere” mysticetes: Palaeontology, v. 56, p. 95127, doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2012.01168.x.
Bisconti M., and Varola A., 2006, The oldest eschrichtiid mysticete and a new morphological diagnosis of Eschrichtiidae (gray whales): Rivista Italiana Di Paleontologia E Stratigrafia, v. 112, p. 447457.
Boessenecker R.W., 2011, New records of the fur seal Callorhinus (Carnivora: Otariidae) from the Plio-Pleistocene Rio Dell Formation of Northern California and comments on otariid dental evolution: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, v. 31, p. 454467, doi: 10.1080/02724634.2011.550362.
Boessenecker R.W., 2013a, A new marine vertebrate assemblage from the Late Neogene Purisima Formation in Central California. part II: pinnipeds and cetaceans: Geodiversitas, v. 35, p. 815940, doi: 10.5252/g2013n4a5.
Boessenecker R.W., 2013b, Pleistocene survival of an archaic dwarf baleen whale (Mysticeti: Cetotheriidae): Naturwissenschaften, v. 100, p. 365371, doi: 10.1007/s00114-013-1037-2.
Bosselaers M., and Post K., 2010, A new fossil rorqual (Mammalia, Cetacea, Balaenopteridae) from the Early Pliocene of the North Sea, with a review of the rorqual species described by Owen and Van Beneden, Geodiversitas, v. 32, p. 331–363, doi: 10.5252/g2010n2a6.
Bouetel V., and De Muizon C., 2006, The anatomy and relationships of Piscobalaena nana (Cetacea, Mysticeti), a Cetotheriidae s.s. from the early Pliocene of Peru: Geodiversitas, v. 28, p. 319395.
Deméré T.A., and Berta A., 2003, A new species of baleen whale (Cetacea: Mysticeti) from the Pliocene of California and its implications for higher mysticete phylogenetic relationships: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, v. 23, p. 45A, doi: 10.1080/02724634.2003.10010538.
Deméré T.A., Berta A., and McGowen M.R., 2005, The taxonomic and evolutionary history of fossil and modern balaenopteroid mysticetes: Journal of Mammalian Evolution, v. 12, p. 99143, doi: 10.1007/s10914-005-6944-3.
Dornburg A., Brandley M.C., McGowen M.R., and Near T.J., 2012, Relaxed clocks and inferences of heterogeneous patterns of nucleotide substitution and divergence time estimates across whales and dolphins (Mammalia: Cetacea): Molecular Biology and Evolution, v. 29, p. 721736, doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr228.
Ekdale E.G., Berta A., and Deméré T.A., 2011, The comparative osteology of the petrotympanic complex (ear region) of extant baleen whales (Cetacea: Mysticeti): PLoS ONE, v. 6, p. e21311, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021311.
Fitzgerald E.M.G., 2012, Possible neobalaenid from the Miocene of Australia implies a long evolutionary history for the pygmy right whale Caperea marginata (Cetacea, Mysticeti): Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, v. 32, p. 976980, doi: 10.1080/02724634.2012.669803.
Fordyce R.E., and Marx F.G., 2013, The pygmy right whale Caperea marginata: the last of the cetotheres: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, v. 280, p. 16, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2645.
Garrison E.G., McFall G., Cherkinsky A., and Noakes S.E., 2012, Discovery of a Pleistocene mysticete whale, Georgia Bight (USA): Palaeontologia Electronica, v. 15, no. 3, 10 p.
Geisler J. H., McGowen M.R., Yang G., and Gatesy J., 2011, A supermatrix analysis of genomic, morphological, and paleontological data from crown Cetacea: BMC Evolutionary Biology, v. 11, no. 112, 33 p. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-112.
Haller C.R., 1980, Pliocene biostratigraphy of California: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Studies in Geology, v. 11, p. 183341.
Hilgen F.J., Lourens L.J., Van Dam J.A., Beu A.G., Boyes A.F., Cooper R.A., Krijgsman W., Ogg J.G., Piller W.E., and Wilson D.S., 2012, Chapter 29 - The Neogene Period, in Gradstein, F.M., Schmitz, J.G.O.D., and Ogg, G.M., eds., The Geologic Time Scale, Boston, Elsevier, p. 923978, doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-59425-9.00029-9.
Ichishima H., Sato E., Sagayama T., and Kimura M., 2006, The oldest record of Eschrichtiidae (Cetacea: Mysticeti) from the Late Pliocene, Hokkaido, Japan: Journal of Paleontology, v. 80, p. 367379, doi: 10.1666/0022-3360(2006)080[0367:TOROEC]2.0.CO: 2.
Jones M.L., and Swartz S.L., 2009, Gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus, in Perrin, W.F., Würsig, B. G., and Thewissen, J., eds., Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press, p. 503511.
Marx F.G., 2011, The more the merrier? A large cladistic analysis of mysticetes, and comments on the transition from teeth to baleen: Journal of Mammalian Evolution, v. 18, p. 77100, doi: 10.1007/s10914-010-9148-4.
McLeod S.A., Whitmore F.C. Jr., and Barnes L.G., 1993, Evolutionary relationships and classification, in Burns, J.J., Montague, J.J., and Coules, C.J., eds., The Bowhead Whale. The Society for Marine Mammalogy, p. 4570.
Mead J.G., and Fordyce R.E., 2009, The therian skull: A lexicon with emphasis on the odontocetes: Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, v. 627, p. 1248.
Mead J.G., and Mitchell E.D., 1984, Atlantic gray whales, in Jones, M.L., Swartz, S.L., and Leatherwood, S., eds., The Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus, Academic Press, p. 3353.
Miyazaki S., Horkawa H., Kohno N., Hirota K., Kimura M., Hasegawa Y., Tomida Y., Barnes L.G., and Ray C.E., 1995, Summary of the fossil record of pinnipeds of Japan, and comparisons with that from the eastern North Pacific: Island Arc, v. 3, p. 361372, doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1738.1994.tb00120.x.
Nikaido M., Hamilton H., Makino H., Sasaki T., Takahashi K., Goto M., Kanda N., Pastene L.A., and Okada N., 2006, Baleen whale phylogeny and a past extensive radiation event revealed by SINE Insertion Analysis: Molecular Biology and Evolution, v. 23, p. 866873, doi: 10.1093/molbev/msj071.
Noakes S.E., Pyenson N.D., and McFall G., 2013, Late Pleistocene gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) offshore Georgia, U.S.A., and the antiquity of gray whale migration in the North Atlantic Ocean: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 392, p. 502509, doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2013.10.005.
Oishi M. and Hasegawa Y., 1995, Diversity of Pliocene mysticetes from eastern Japan. The Island Arc, v. 3, p. 436–452.
Post K., 2005, A Weichselian marine mammal assemblage from the southern North Sea: Deinsea, v. 11, p. 2127.
Powell C.L. and Ponti D.J., 2007, Paleontologic and stratigraphic reevaluation of Deadman Island, formerly in San Pedro Bay, California: Pacific Section SEPM Book 103, p. 101–120.
Repenning C.A., 1983, New evidence for the age of the Gubik Formation Alaskan North Slope: Quaternary Research, v. 19, p. 356372, doi: 10.1016/0033-5894(83)90041-8.
Rice D.W., 1998, Marine mammals of the world: systematics and distribution: Society for Marine Mammalogy Special Publication, v. 4, p. 1231.
Roth B., 1979, Late Cenozoic marine invertebrates from Northwest California and Southwest Oregon [Ph.D. thesis]: Berkeley, University of California, 803 p.
Sarna-Wojcicki A.M., Wagner J.R., Perkins M.E., Lajoie K.R., and Morrison D., 1982, Introduction to the tectonic and stratigraphic setting of the Humboldt Basin, Humboldt County, northwestern California, in Harden, D.R., Marron, D.C., and Macdonald, A.D., eds., Late Cenozoic History and Forest Geomorphology of Humboldt County, California, Friends of the Pleistocene, Pacific Cell Field Trip Guidebook, San Francisco, California, p. 4662.
Steeman M.E., 2007, Cladistic analysis and a revised classification of fossil and recent mysticetes: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, v. 150, p. 875894, doi: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2007.00313.x.
Tsai C.-H., Fordyce R.E., Chang C.-H., and Lin L.-K., 2014, Quaternary fossil gray whales from Taiwan: Paleontological Research, v. 18, p. 8293, doi: 10.2517/2014PR009.
Whitmore F.C., and Kaltenbach J.A., 2008, Neogene Cetacea of the Lee Creek Phosphate Mine, North Carolina: Virginia Museum of Natural History Special Publication, v. 14, p. 181269.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Paleontology
  • ISSN: 0022-3360
  • EISSN: 1937-2337
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-paleontology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 8 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 210 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 13th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.