Charles Darwin is the author of a theory that limited whales and their ancestors to one of the gentlest species of mammals on Earth and throughout history. This idea was based on another conception. The father of evolutionary biology believed that whales always had blunt teeth that allowed water to sieve through them. However, a team of Australian researchers found evidence that the ancestors were actually featuring sharp teeth that were as menacing as lions’.
Baleen Ancestors Had Sharp Teeth that Made Them Act as Ferocious Predators
Australian scientists made a fantastic discovery back in 2016. They found a prehistoric tooth in the rocks of Victoria’s southern coastline. Due to corrosive factors, the team couldn’t learn a lot from simply studying their small historic treasure. However, today’s modern technology allowed them to find answers by running 3D models.
The next step was to compare the results with modern oceanic predators. As a consequence, the team of scientists at the Museums Victoria discovered that ancient whales didn’t master the art of filter-feeding yet. Instead, they enjoyed the perks of being born with sharp teeth just like lions have nowadays. Vertebrate paleontology scientist Dr. Erich Fitzgerald stated that the 3D models showed slicing blades.
“Their teeth really optimised in shape for slicing through flesh.”
Australian researchers managed to identify the discovered tooth as pertaining to a Janjucetus. This is an ancient species of whale that used to live more than 25 million years ago off the Victorian coast. They belong to the ancestors of today’s baleen whales, such as right whales, humpbacks, and blue whales.
The Evolution of Whales Featured Three Stages of Feeding Methods
The new paper that introduces a groundbreaking insight into the whale evolution was published on Wednesday in journal Biology Letters. The findings suggest that whales originated as ferocious predators before losing their sharp teeth prior to their evolution to baleen.
As a result, scientists identified three feeding stages for whales. They first hunted their prey only to develop sucking and then eventually sieving feeding methods. On top of that, their initial killing period confined them to small sizes. For instance, the baleen ancestor Janjucetus was only 10 feet long. However, its lineage continued to grow due to changes in feeding process until they became some of the largest mammals on Earth.
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