Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 March 2021
The inner ear of the two higher clades of modern cetaceans (Neoceti) is highly adapted for hearing infrasonic (mysticetes) or ultrasonic (odontocetes) frequencies. Within odontocetes, Platanistoidea comprises a single extant riverine representative, Platanista gangetica, and a diversity of mainly extinct marine species from the late Oligocene onward. Recent studies drawing on features including the disparate tympanoperiotic have not yet provided a consensus phylogenetic hypothesis for platanistoids. Further, cochlear morphology and evolutionary patterns have never been reported. Here, we describe for the first time the inner ear morphology of late Oligocene–early Miocene extinct marine platanistoids and their evolutionary patterns. We initially hypothesized that extinct marine platanistoids lacked a specialized inner ear like P. gangetica and thus, their morphology and inferred hearing abilities were more similar to those of pelagic odontocetes. Our results reveal there is no “typical” platanistoid cochlear type, as the group displays a disparate range of cochlear anatomies, but all are consistent with high-frequency hearing. Stem odontocete Prosqualodon australis and platanistoid Otekaikea huata present a tympanal recess in their cochlea, of yet uncertain function in the hearing mechanism in cetaceans. The more basal morphology of Aondelphis talen indicates it had lower high-frequency hearing than other platanistoids. Finally, Platanista has the most derived cochlear morphology, adding to evidence that it is an outlier within the group and consistent with a >9-Myr-long separation from its sister genus Zarhachis. The evolution of a singular sound production morphology within Platanistidae may have facilitated the survival of Platanista to the present day.