NannoChats: Oct. 12, 2020

There will be a new NannoChats presentation to be presented by new NIGS faculty and laboratory member, Meyrick Tablizo. He will present the paper by Dominici and co-workers, published in Earth Science Reviews titled “The awkward record of fossil whales”. The presentation will be held through Zoom at 4:00 PM.


The habitat, actuopaleontology and global fossil record of crown cetaceans, today occupying apex positions in the marine ecosystem, is reviewed. A large Neogene-Quaternary dataset is built, covering the time span of the evolutionary radiation of crown Odontoceti and Mysticeti and including updated information on whale taxonomy, chronostratigraphy, geography, paleoenvironment, taphonomy and size. We outline an uneven chronostratigraphic and geographic distribution of fossils, which influences our understanding of global diversity trends. Notwithstanding the vast majority of whale carcasses sinks to bathyal depths, the fossil record is mainly associated with shelf paleoenvironments. The evolution of gigantic whales triggered the radiation of whale-fall communities, including a global bone-eating fauna that hampers the preservation of carcasses at bathyal depths. This “Osedax” effect may explain the unexpected distribution of the fossil record, particularly in the Pleistocene, when baleen whales became gigantic and the ecosystem engineers they are today. A review of the relative thickness of Pleistocene marine strata rules out artefacts of the rock record. The distribution of taphonomic grades suggests that the average skeletal completeness decreases during the Neogene and Quaternary, consistently with an increased efficiency of bioeroders. The frequency of complete and articulated skeletons is time-independent, suggesting a control by sedimentation rates. Quality of the record is expected to improve particularly from taxonomic studies dedicated to the rich, but unexplored South american record, documenting the record of little known productive regions, such as Africa, the Arctic and Antarctica, and the taphonomy and stratigraphic paleobiology of old and new findings.

Dominici, S., Danise, S., Cau, S., & Freschi, A. (2019). The awkward record of fossil whales. Earth-Science Reviews, 103057.