How whales used to filter: exceptionally preserved baleen in a Miocene cetotheriid

Felix G. Marx, Alberto Collareta, Anna Gioncada, Klaas Post, Olivier Lambert, Elena Bonaccorsi, Mario Urbina, Giovanni Bianucci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Because baleen rarely fossilises, extremely little is known about its evolution, structure and function outside the living families. Here we describe, for the first time, the exceptionally preserved baleen apparatus of an entirely extinct mysticete morphotype: the Late Miocene cetotheriid, Piscobalaena nana, from the Pisco Formation of Peru. The baleen plates of P. nana are closely spaced and built around relatively dense, fine tubules, as in the enigmatic pygmy right whale, Caperea marginata. Phosphatisation of the intertubular horn, but not the tubules themselves, suggests in vivo intertubular calcification. The size of the rack matches the distribution of nutrient foramina on the palate, and implies the presence of an unusually large subrostral gap. Overall, the baleen morphology of Piscobalaena likely reflects the interacting effects of size, function and phylogeny, and reveals a previously unknown degree of complexity in modern mysticete feeding evolution.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)212-220
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • baleen whale
  • Cetotheriidae
  • filter feeding
  • Mysticeti
  • Piscobalaena
  • suction feeding


Dive into the research topics of 'How whales used to filter: exceptionally preserved baleen in a Miocene cetotheriid'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this