No deep diving: Evidence of predation on epipelagic fish for a stem beaked whale from the late miocene of peru

Olivier Lambert, Alberto Collareta, Walter Landini, Klaas Post, Benjamin Ramassamy, Claudio Di Celma, Mario Urbina, Giovanni Bianucci

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All rights reserved. Although modern beaked whales (Ziphiidae) are known to be highly specialized toothed whales that predominantly feed at great depths upon benthic and benthopelagic prey, only limited palaeontological data document this major ecological shift.We report on a ziphiid–fish assemblage fromthe Late Miocene of Peru thatwe interpret as the first direct evidence of a predator–prey relationship between a ziphiid and epipelagic fish. Preserved in a dolomite concretion, a skeleton of the stem ziphiid Messapicetus gregarius was discovered together with numerous skeletons of a clupeiform fish closely related to the epipelagic extant Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax). Based on the position of fish individuals along the head and chest regions of the ziphiid, the lack of digestion marks on fish remains and the homogeneous size of individuals, we propose that this assemblage results fromthe death of thewhale (possibly via toxin poisoning) shortly after the capture of prey from a single school. Together with morphological data and the frequent discovery of fossil crown ziphiids in deep-sea deposits, this exceptional record supports the hypothesis that only more derived ziphiids were regular deep divers and that the extinction of epipelagic forms may coincide with the radiation of true dolphins.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1815
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Feeding
  • Fossil
  • Odontoceti
  • Pacific sardine
  • Sardinops
  • Ziphiidae


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