Suction feeding preceded filtering in baleen whale evolution

Felix G. Marx, David P. Hocking, Travis Park, Tim Ziegler, Alistair R. Evans and Erich M.G. Fitzgerald

Memoirs of Museum Victoria Vol 75 p. 71–82 (2016)



The origin of baleen, the key adaptation of modern whales (Mysticeti), marks a profound yet poorly understood transition in vertebrate evolution, triggering the rise of the largest animals on Earth. Baleen is thought to have appeared in archaic tooth-bearing mysticetes during a transitional phase that combined raptorial feeding with incipient bulk filtering. Here we show that tooth wear in a new Late Oligocene mysticete belonging to the putatively transitional family Aetiocetidae isinconsistent with the presence of baleen, and instead indicative ofsuction feeding. Our findingssuggest that baleen arose much closer to the origin of toothless mysticete whales than previously thought. In addition, they suggest an entirely new evolutionary scenario in which the transition from raptorial to baleen-assisted filter feeding was mediated by suction, thereby avoiding the problem of functional interference between teeth and the baleen rack.


Marx, F.G., Hocking, D.P., Park, T., Ziegler, T., Evans, A.R. & Fitzgerald, E.M.G., 2016. Suction feeding preceded filtering in baleen whale evolution. Memoirs of Museum Victoria 75: 71-82.


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