Exceptional occurrence of fossil baleen in shallow marine sediments of the Neogene Pisco Formation, Southern Peru

Raúl Esperante, Leonard Brand, Kevin E. Nick, Orlando Poma, Mario Urbina

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59 Scopus citations


Fossil baleen is rare in the sedimentary record. This paper documents the exceptional occurrence of thirty seven fossil whale specimens with preserved baleen in the Neogene Pisco Formation during a transect survey in a limited area west of the Ica River Valley near the town of Ocucaje in southern Peru. The sedimentary layers consist of tuffaceous and diatomaceous sandstones, diatomaceous mudstones, and dolomites, deposited in a shallow marine embayment. Observations of modern whale carcasses on the seafloor and stranded individuals indicate that baleen detaches from the mouth of the whales very rapidly after death, and that bones deteriorate very rapidly as a result of scavenging activity and abrasion. In contrast, the bones of the Pisco Formation whales are exceptionally well preserved, and their baleen is often found in life position suspended from the rostrum. Sedimentary structures found associated with some skeletons indicate tidal and storm processes, suggesting that the environment was not anoxic. This exceptional occurrence of fossil baleen suggests early mineralization of the baleen attachment to the rostrum or rapid burial of the skeletons before any detachment or loss could occur.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)344-360
Number of pages17
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 23 Jan 2008


  • Exceptional fossilization
  • Fossil baleen
  • Mysticeti
  • Neogene
  • Peru
  • Pisco Formation
  • Rapid burial


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