Welcome back and good luck to the pygmy right whale, thought before 2012 to be an extinct type of whale.
The pygmy right whale, a mysterious and elusive creature that rarely comes to shore, is the last living relative of an ancient group of whales long believed to be extinct, a new study suggests.
… “The living pygmy right whale is, if you like, a remnant, almost like a living fossil,” said Felix Marx, a paleontologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “It’s the last survivor of quite an ancient lineage that until now no one thought was around.”
The relatively diminutive pygmy right whale, which grows to just 21 feet long, lives out in the open ocean. The elusive marine mammals inhabit the Southern Hemisphere and have only been spotted at sea a few dozen times. As a result, scientists know almost nothing about the species’ habits or social structure.
The strange creature’s arched, frownlike snout makes it look oddly different from other living whales. DNA analysis suggested pygmy right whales diverged from modern baleen whales such as the blue whale and the humpback whale between 17 million and 25 million years ago. However, the pygmy whales’ snouts suggested they were more closely related to the family of whales that includes the bowhead whale. Yet there were no studies of fossils showing how the pygmy whale had evolved, Marx said. …
The pygmy whale’s skull most closely resembled that of an ancient family of whales called cetotheres that were thought to have gone extinct around 2 million years ago, the researchers found. Cetotheres emerged about 15 million years ago and once occupied oceans across the globe. The findings help explain how pygmy whales evolved and may also help shed light on how these ancient “lost” whales lived. The new information is also a first step in reconstructing the ancient lineage all the way back to the point when all members of this group first diverged, he said. …
First described by John Edward Gray in 1846, it is the smallest of the baleen whales, ranging between in length and in mass. Despite its name, the pygmy right whale may have more in common with the gray whale and rorquals than the bowhead and right whales.
The pigmy right whale joins a few other animal species that were once believed extinct and then suddenly turned up, living and breathing, somewhere in the world. Other Lazarus taxon, not out of danger but at least still here are: the Majorcan Midwife Toad, the Chacoan Peccary, the Laotian Rock Rat, the Terror Skink, the Gracilidris ant, and the mighty Coelacanth prehistoric looking fish, the Monito del Monte, Monoplacophoran Mollusks, and the Mountain Pygmy Possum.
For perspective, there are believe to be between three and 30 million different animal species alive today on earth, which is about 1% of all animal species that have ever existed on the planet. In other words, 99% of all species are now extinct, at least according to curiosity.com. The few Lazarus taxon are a drop in the bucket to the 300 million to 3 billion species that once existed.