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Herpetocetine (Cetacea: Mysticeti) dentaries from the Upper Miocene Santa Margarita Sandstone of Central California

  • Author(s): Boessenecker, Robert W.
  • et al.

Two fossil baleen whale (Mysticeti) dentaries from the Upper Miocene (10–12 Ma) Santa Margarita Sandstone of Central California preserve several distinct features similar to the enigmatic herpetocetine whale Herpetocetus. These features include an elongate coronoid process, a mandibular condyle with a planar articular surface, and a posteriorly extended angular process. The dentary is unknown for several Herpetocetinae (and the more inclusive clade Cetotheriidae), including the coeval Nannocetus eremus. This occurrence would extend the known record of Herpetocetus by 6 Ma. Given the currently poor knowledge of Pacific Cetotheriidae during the Miocene, these specimens are identified to the subfamily Herpetocetinae, despite the similarity of these specimens to Herpetocetus. As the morphology of the supposedly distinctive lectotype dentary of Herpetocetus scaldiensis (the type species of Herpetocetus) may not be unique to Herpetocetus, this study suggests that the mandibular morphology of fossil mysticetes may be more homoplastic (or conservative) than previously assumed. Mysticete taxonomy should employ autapomorphic characters beyond the morphology of the dentary alone.

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