Tech & Science Ancient pygmy right whale fossil identified 60 years after being found on Melbourne beach

04:58  11 july  2018
04:58  11 july  2018 Source:   abc.net.au

Bayside beach helps unlock mystery of smallest whale

  Bayside beach helps unlock mystery of smallest whale Every summer for millions of years, a mysterious creature has flocked to the waters off the coast of Beaumaris.The pygmy right whale is large, but shy and rarely photographed. We can only guess what it eats, where it breeds and what it is doing out there in the deep blue.

The ancient pygmy right whale ear bone is about the size of an apricot. Photo: ABC. A seemingly unremarkable fossil first collected on a Melbourne beach more than 60 years ago has turned out to be the oldest known evidence of the rare pygmy right whale .

Found : Whale Thought Extinct for 2 Million Years . "The living pygmy right whale is , if you like, a remnant, almost like a living fossil ," said Felix Marx, a paleontologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

The ancient pygmy right whale ear bone is about the size of an apricot.© Provided by ABC News The ancient pygmy right whale ear bone is about the size of an apricot.

A seemingly unremarkable fossil first collected on a Melbourne beach more than 60 years ago has turned out to be the oldest known evidence of the rare pygmy right whale.

The ancient bone was found in the bayside suburb of Beaumaris by Museums Victoria honorary palaeontologist George Baxter Pritchard in the first half of last century, and placed in one of the museum's collections.

But only recently did palaeontologist Dr Erich Fitzgerald decide to take a closer look at the object.

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He discovered the fossil was a six-million-year-old ear bone from a pygmy right whale.

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Fossil hunters chanced upon the prehistoric bones in sedimentary rock that formed 55m to 60 m years ago on what is now Hampden beach in Otago in the country’s South The fossilised remains of giant penguins have been found from 20m to 50m years ago, but older examples are extremely rare.

The pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) is a member of the cetotheres, a family of baleen whales , which until 2012 were thought to be extinct

It is the oldest known evidence of the species, which is still found in the Southern Ocean.

The find was made even more significant by the fact there are only six pigmy right whale fossils in the world, Dr Fitzgerald said.

"It's a startling thing about museums that we can make big discoveries without having to take one step outside of the museum building," he said.

Little is known about pygmy right whales — the smallest whales in the baleen family.

They have a dorsal fin but only spend a few minutes on the surface, making them hard to spot.

The fossil is about the size of an apricot.

Dr Fitzgerald said Mr Baxter, who found the bone all those years ago, was a pioneer of palaeontology in Australia.

"He undertook some of the pioneering studies in the geology and prehistory of Victoria and elsewhere in Australia," he said.

"Now more than 60 years after his discovery at Beaumaris we can unlock the secrets of his finds and share them with the world."

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