Smithsonian Scientists Describe a New Fossil Whale

Preview Smithsonian researchers with fossil whale skulls from the group Monodontidae
(Smithsonian Institution)

Monodontids, the group of whales that includes living belugas and narwhals, are emblematic symbols of the Arctic. However, the fossil record shows that these animals had a much larger range than the northern pole.

In the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the National Museum of Natural History's curator of fossil marine mammals Nick Pyenson, and Howard University/NMNH pre-doctoral student Jorge Velez-Juarbe describe a new species of fossil monodontid from early Pliocene deposits (around 3-4 million years old) in Virginia and North Carolina. The fossil, dubbed Bohaskaia monodontoides, honors David J. Bohaska of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and member of the Pyenson Lab, for his knowledge and dedication to the paleontological heritage of the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Pictured here, co-authors Jorge Velez-Juarbe and Nick Pyenson stand alongside Dave Bohaska, center, who holds the skull of the fossil beluga relative named after him, Bohaskaia monodontoides. Jorge, left, holds the resin cast of a narwhal tusk, with the skull below, while Nick holds the skull of an adult beluga. In the background are skulls of baleen whales at NMNH's Museum Support Center, in Suitland, Md.

Learn more about the discovery on the Ocean Portal's Paleobiology Blog.