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

rast, 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.


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

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