Navigation Links
Ancient whale fall from California's Ao Nuevo Island one of youngest, most complete known
Date:9/13/2007

Berkeley -- A fossilized whale skeleton excavated 20 years ago amid the stench and noise of a seabird and elephant seal rookery on California's A o Nuevo Island turns out to be the youngest example on the Pacific coast of a fossil whale fall and the first in California, according to University of California, Berkeley, paleontologists.

Whale falls, first recognized in the 1980s, are whale carcasses that fall to the deep-ocean floor where, like an oasis in the desert, they attract a specialized group of clams, crabs and worms that feed for up to decades on the oil-rich bones and tissues.

Some scientists think these random, deep-ocean oases are stepping stones for organisms moving from one ocean floor environment to another - whether a hot vent, a cold seep or a whale carcass - in search of sustenance from energy-rich chemicals.

"The fossil whale fall shows that these deep-sea communities didn't need especially large whales as a source of nutrients - in fact, the fossil whale from Ao Nuevo Island was no longer than a VW bug," said Nick Pyenson, a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology.

Pyenson and museum scientist David M. Haasl, both of UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology, published their findings in this week's online edition of the journal Biology Letters.

The A o Nuevo skeleton, discovered in 1987 by then-UC Santa Cruz graduate student Brian Fadely and excavated by Graham Worthy and local fossil expert Frank Perry, was considered a rather small and unremarkable fossil whale - at 11 feet, it was less than half the size of today's smallest baleen whales. The bones, including skull, spine and ribs, were displayed at Long Marine Laboratory in Santa Cruz until the lab donated the partially articulated skeleton to the Museum of Paleontology in 2005.

As Pyenson prepared it for the museum's collection, however, he noticed small clams in the nooks and crannies of the skull. He found 21 clams in all, each less than a centimeter in length, or two-fifths of an inch, plus one snail. Most of these organisms were on the skull, but some were nestled in the vertebrae. Haasl, a mollusk expert, thought the clams might be similar to those that cluster around whale falls today and that are able to extract energy from chemicals in bones with the help of specialized symbiotic bacteria. At whale fall depths of more than 1,000 meters, there is no light for photosynthesis.

Based on the shape of the fossil clam shells attached to the whale skeleton, Pyenson and Haasl determined that they belong to the same group of mollusks whose living relatives are chemosynthetic, confirming their initial hypothesis that this was a whale fall. A visit by Pyenson and Haasl to Ao Nuevo Island in January 2007 showed that the whale came from 15 million-year-old sediments, the Monterey Formation, making the A o Nuevo find much younger than most fossil whale falls discovered around the globe, the oldest of which date from 40 million years ago, Pyenson said.

Whale falls were unknown to science until 1989, when the first example of a deep-sea community living on recently deceased whale carcasses was reported from southern California.

"The ocean floor is pretty much a desert until you get a whole whale carcass sinking to the bottom," Pyenson said. "We don't know how these creatures know to colonize it. Are they ever-present on the sea floor waiting for an animal to fall" But when the whale carcass hits, it forms this island refuge of high nutrient levels that can sustain an undersea community, some scientists calculate, for decades."

Over the past 18 years, more whale falls have been found around the world, and paleontologists have found examples in the fossil record as well. Most fossil examples, however, consist of isolated bones adjacent to deep-sea mollusks, Pyenson said. Little is known about the size or identity of the whale host.

In contrast, the Ao Nuevo skeleton was unusually complete and hosted multiple mollusks. It also was small, which suggested to Pyenson that these specialized deep-sea communities didn't need large whale carcasses to evolve. Previous researchers had hypothesized that whale-fall communities evolved with the origin of large baleen whales, such as blue whales, and oil-rich bones. Pyenson and Haasl proposed instead that the oil content of the whale's bones was the more crucial factor.

"What we have are relatives of modern chemosynthetic clams associated directly with the skeleton of a tiny, tiny whale, smaller than any other known from modern whale falls," Pyenson said. "That tells us that you don't need very large whales to sustain a whale fall, but what you probably need is a really oily skeleton."

Because they are more buoyant, oil-rich bones are likely one adaptation to allow deep diving, Pyenson said. The A o Nuevo whale fall find puts a lower limit of 11 million years on the origin of oily bones in whales, he added.

Pyenson and Haasl are currently working with scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who routinely study recent whale falls in Monterey Bay. They hope to do "side-by-side comparisons of the fossil and modern whale-fall clam shells" to better characterize those from the fossil whale fall.


'/>"/>

Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Ancient olfaction protein is shared by many bugs, offering new pest control target
2. Researchers find missing genes of ancient organism
3. Family trees of ancient bacteria reveal evolutionary moves
4. Scientists find fossil proof of Egypts ancient climate
5. U-M team recovers ancient whale in Egyptian desert
6. Ancient immune defense mechanism is no match for HIV-1
7. Ancient DNA helps clarify the origins of two extinct New World horse species
8. Deep sea algae connect ancient climate, carbon dioxide and vegetation
9. Analysis of flower genes reveals the fate of an ancient gene duplication
10. Researchers Discover Ancient Origins Of Tuberculosis-causing Bacteria
11. Ancient DNA confirms single origin of Malagasy primates
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:3/29/2017)... 2017  higi, the health IT company that operates ... America , today announced a Series B investment ... EveryMove. The new investment and acquisition accelerates higi,s strategy ... transform population health activities through the collection and workflow ... higi collects and secures data today on behalf of ...
(Date:3/28/2017)... , March 28, 2017 ... Biometrics), Hardware (Camera, Monitors, Servers, Storage Devices), Software (Video ... and Region - Global Forecast to 2022", published by ... in 2016 and is projected to reach USD 75.64 ... 2017 and 2022. The base year considered for the ...
(Date:3/27/2017)... , March 27, 2017  Catholic Health Services ... Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Analytics for achieving Stage ... Model sm . In addition, CHS previously earned ... hospitals using an electronic medical record (EMR). ... high level of EMR usage in an outpatient ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:3/29/2017)... ... March 29, 2017 , ... Zansors announced today ... as issued by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). The patent covers ... and health monitoring. This invention will be critical to the future of wearable ...
(Date:3/29/2017)... ... March 29, 2017 , ... ... dedicated to finding cures for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), and ReachMD , ... deliver exclusive content to ReachMD learners. , The partnership, which launched in ...
(Date:3/29/2017)... OF PRUSSIA, Pa. , March 29, 2017 /PRNewswire/ ... to care, which is why CSL Behring awards Local ... work of rare disease patient groups. These groups tackle ... voices are heard on Capitol Hill and in statehouses ... funding cycle, the community-based grant was awarded to New ...
(Date:3/29/2017)... Inc. (NASDAQ: VRML), a bio-analytical solutions company focused ... the fourth quarter and full year ended December ... year for us with our first clinical utility ... reimbursement progress with Medicare, positive medical policy coverage ... cleared our 2 nd generation product Overa ...
Breaking Biology Technology: