Whales are magnificent creatures, full of mystery and wonder… and one mystery that has always puzzled scientists, including our very own Curator of Paleontology Dr. Tom Deméré, is how and when the evolution from teeth to baleen occurred in of the ancestors of today’s filter-feeding whales.
This small exhibit presents new research from Dr. Deméré, along with Dr. Mark Springer (University of California, Riverside), Dr. John Gatesy (American Museum of Natural History), and Dr. Annalisa Berta (San Diego State University).
Visitors can see real specimens, including the skull of an adult minke whale, a complete rack of humpback whale baleen, and a preserved humpback whale fetus used in a CT scan analysis that yielded key evidence. Visitors can also examine a cast skull of an ancestral toothed whale species called Dorudon atrox, which lived in the sea some 38 million years ago before the evolution of the ancestors of living baleen whales, sperm whales, belugas, and dolphins. Also on display is a 3D-printed model of an early transitional whale species that had teeth and features suggesting the presence of rudimentary baleen. This transitional fossil, Aetiocetus weltoni, lived approximately 25 million years ago off the west coast of North America.
Learn more about the groundbreaking findings behind this evolutionary story. Science Spotlight: Baleen Whale Evolution is located on Level 3, and is free for members and included with general admission to the Museum.