This has been a heck of a year for fossil baleen whales. New species are swimming out of the rock and into academic journals at a rapid pace, particularly those that may have played a critical role in the story of how mysticetes evolved to strain the seas. But not all the novel taxa are toothy wonders. From the coastal desert of Peru comes a new genus of baleen whale that belonged to a puzzling group.

Paleontologist Felix Marx and colleagues have named the Miocene whale Tiucetus rosae. So far, it's only known from a partial skull recovered from the 18-9 million year old deposits of Santa Rosa. But not only does the skull represent a species never before seen, but it adds context to a little-known group called cetotheriids.

For a long time, Marx and coauthors point out, cetothere was a wastebasket taxon. That is, it was a group that lots of species were assigned to but seemed to have no real identity in nature. Slowly, however, the wastebasket has been sorted out and cetotheriids - as they're not called - have turned out to be a diverse group of whales that had their heyday in the Miocene. Tiucetus was part of that, Marx and colleagues write, connecting the cetotheriids with a broader array of whales that includes today's pygmy right whale. Piece by piece, the ebb and flow of baleen whale history is coming into focus.

The skull of Tiucetus as seen from above. Credit: Marx et al 2017

Name: Tiucetus rosae

Meaning: Tiucetus means "sand whale", for the desert along the Peru coastline where the fossils were found, and rosae is for Santa Rosa.

Age: Miocene, between 18 and 9 million years ago.

Where in the world?: Santa Rosa, Peru. 

What sort of organism?: A baleen whale.

How much of the organism’s is known?: A partial skull


Marx, F., Lambert, O., de Muizon, C. 2017. A new Miocene baleen whale from Peru deciphers the dawn of cetotheriids. Royal Society Open Science. doi: 10.1098/rsos.170560

Previous Paleo Profiles:

The Light-Footed Lizard
The Maoming Cat
Knight’s Egyptian Bat
The La Luna Snake
The Rio do Rasto Tooth
Bob Weir's Otter
Egypt's Canine Beast
The Vastan Mine Tapir
Pangu's Wing
The Dawn Megamouth
The Genga Lizard
The Micro Lion
The Mystery Titanosaur
The Echo Hunter
The Lo Hueco Titan
The Three-Branched Cicada
The Monster of Minden
The Pig-Footed Bandicoot
Hayden's Rattlesnake Demon
The Evasive Ostrich Seer
The Paradoxical Mega Shark
The Tiny Beardogs
The Armored Fish King
North America's Pangolin
The Invisible-Tusked Elephant
The Mud Dragon
The Spike-Toothed Salmon
The Dream Coast Crocodile
Buriol's Robber
Ozimek's Flyer
The Northern Naustoceratopsian
The High Arctic Flyer
The Tomatillo From the End of the World
The Short-Faced Hyena
The Mighty Traveler from Egg Mountain
Keilhau's Ichthyosaur
Mexico's Ancient Horned Face
Mauricio Fernández's Plesiosaur
New Zealand's Giant Dawn Penguin
The Orange Sea Lion
Mongolia's Ginkgo Cousin
The Geni River Frog
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The Whale Caiman
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Yang Zhongjian's Lizard
The Little Anubis
The Shuangbai Lizard
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The "Need Helmet" Dinosaur
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The Liaoning Hunter
The Dalian Lizard
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