Ferocious fossil

17 August, 2006

Janjucetus hunderi skull
Janjucetus hunderi skull.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

Whale skull proves aquatic giants were not always so gentle.

On Wednesday 16 August at 10.30am, representatives from a wide variety of local and international media attended Melbourne Museum to witness the unveiling of the most important marine mammal fossil yet discovered in Australia.

Janjucetus hunderi, a 25 million year old whale skull, identifies a new family of small, highly predatory, toothed baleen whales with enormous eyes.

Surprisingly unlike its living relatives in appearance and lifestyle, the fossil forces a major rethink of what baleen whales are and how they evolved.

The findings, by Museum Victoria research associate and Monash University PhD student Erich Fitzgerald, will be published in a paper by the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the foremost publication of The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science.

"Since finding my first fossil near Lilydale at the age of seven, I've spent my life collecting and studying fossils," said Dr John Long, Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria.

"In my opinion this is one of the most exciting to come out of Victoria and is of great international significance in understanding the story of whale evolution. Erich Fitzgerald is to be highly commended, not only for three years of hard work preparing the specimen, but also for his wonderful insights on its anatomy."

Originally discovered near Jan Juc on Victoria’s west coast in the late 1990s, the second part of Janjucetus hunderi’s name honours the Jan Juc teenager who discovered the fossilised bones exposed on the surface of a large boulder.

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