The pygmy right whale, which bears almost no resemblance to any whale on earth today, turns out to be the last living member of a group which was thought to have been extinct for about two million years.
The little whale, which measures only about 21 feet (6.5 meters) long, lives in the Southern Hemisphere and is rarely seen. As a result, very little is known about its social structure or its habits. In appearance, the little whales display arched snouts which set it apart from other whales.
Recently, DNA studies disclosed that the pygmy whales split from ancestors which later became the so-called baleen whales somewhere between 17 and 25 million years ago. The pygmy right whales' skulls, when compared with fossil specimens and the skulls of modern whales, suggest that these little animals are the last remnants of an ancient family known as cetotheres, which were thought to have gone extinct around two million years ago. So these rare and elusive whales can be considered living fossils.
It is still amazing to me how many “living fossils” turn up. It seems that every few weeks a new one is discovered. How many more are out there?
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