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Isotopes from fossil coronulid barnacle shells record evidence of migration in multiple Pleistocene whale populations


Migration is an integral feature of modern mysticete whale ecology, and the demands of migration may have played a key role in shaping mysticete evolutionary history. Constraining when migration became established and assessing how it has changed through time may yield valuable insight into the evolution of mysticete whales and the oceans in which they lived. However, there are currently few data which directly assess prehistoric mysticete migrations. Here we show that calcite δ18O profiles of two species of modern whale barnacles (coronulids) accurately reflect the known migration routes of their host whales. We then analyze well-preserved fossil coronulids from three different locations along the eastern Pacific coast, finding that δ18O profiles from these fossils exhibit trends and ranges similar to modern specimens. Our results demonstrate that migration is an ancient behavior within the humpback and gray whale lineages and that multiple Pleistocene populations were undertaking migrations of an extent similar to those of the present day.

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