SVP, Day 4

It was a full slate for me today, as there were lots of whale and other mammal talks. Aaron Wood et al. presented on a new specimen of the Eocene horse Hyracotherium from Wyoming with a well-preserved vertebral column (the specimen above is from the National Museum of Natural History). Their functional analysis of the flexibility in the column indicates that  Hyracotherium was capable of rapid acceleration. As a tiny forest dweller (see the life-sized model below at AMNH, with Tim for scale), they suggested that it may have used the same flight strategy as a rabbit; freezing, then rapidly bounding away if spotted.

Bruce Shockey et al. presented a talk on the knee-locking mechanism in rhinos. As indicated in the photo below of the modern genus Rhinoceros from the National Museum, this consists of an enlargement of the inside of the femur (thigh bone–green arrow) and a hook on the patella (knee cap–red arrow). These interlock to fix the knee and ankle into a straight position, preventing the leg from bending unless the patella is pulled to the side by a muscle. This allows the rhino to stand for hours on end without getting tired. Their relatives, the horses, have a somewhat similar mechanism that involves a cartilage hook.

Lisa Cooper et al. presented a paper on the thickened ribs in Indohyus, an Eocene herbivore that they believe is ancestral to the whales (as described in an earlier post).

The afternoon session was all whales. Robert Boessenecker and Jonathan Geisler reported a new and very well-preserved specimen of the small baleen whale Herpetocetus from California. I don’t have a photo of Herpetocetus, but it’s closely related to Piscobalaena from Peru (below):

Mark Clementz et al. presented an isotope study of the remingtonocetids, a rather bizarre group of primitive whales from Pakistan (for example, Kutchicetus, below):

Their studies indicate that the remingtonocetids were living in estuarine environments, which makes them behavorially intermediate between slightly older and slightly younger whales from the same area (although remingtonocetids are too specialized to be ancestral to modern whales).

Mark Uhen et al. presented preliminary findings on Eocene whales from Peru, possibly including the oldest whales known from the southern hemisphere. I saw some of these specimens a few years ago on one of my visits to Peru:

Erich Fitzgerald presented information on a strange whale from the Oligocene of Australian called Mammalodon. This whale is a toothed mysticete, related to the baleen whales but having teeth rather than baleen. There are quite a few toothed mysticetes known, but Mammalodon is unusual in having a wide and amazingly short snout.

Meredith Staley and Larry Barnes presented on other toothed mysticetes, this time from the early Miocene of California. Three different species from this locality are the youngest known toothed mysticetes. I was able to photograph one of the partially-prepared skulls when I was visiting the Los Angeles County Museum a few years ago (the arrows are pointing to teeth):

Olivier Lambert et al. reported on some new beaked whales (ziphiids) from the Miocene of Peru. Again, some of these were specimens that I was able to photograph several years ago:

I don’t have a good report on the last poster session, because I had to present my own poster and didn’t get a chance to see many others. As I mentioned a few days ago, I reported on the Rappahannock sperm whale and its similarities and differences with Zygophyseter. I have finally decided that the Rappahannock whale is not Zygophyseter varolai, although it may be related. Both the Rappahannock whale and Zygophyseter have a long connection between the jugal and squamosal bones, which is not found in other sperm whales. However, as can be seen in the image below, the shape and size of these bones is quite different in Zygophyseter (top) and the Rappahannock whale (bottom). The Rappahannock whale has a much more massive lacrimal, jugal, and zygomatic process, and a longer jugal, even though the length of the zygomatic processes are the same.

Zygophyseter image modified from: Bianucci, Giovanni, & Landini, Walter. (2006). “Killer sperm whale: a new basal physeteroid (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the Late Miocene of Italy”. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 148: 103-131.

On Sunday morning I head back home, after a very informative four days.

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9 Responses to SVP, Day 4

  1. Doug says:

    So sad to see it end. It was really fun hearing about all the talks you went to. And the photos do really help illustrate what you’re talking about. And though it isn’t very good, if you ever need a picture of a Herpetocetus specimen, I one you can use: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jobaria/2548945408/

    And in a talk session about fossil marine mammals, I am not one bit surprised that Larry Barnes’ name shows up. That guy is the king of fossil marine mammals. I was just recently talking to him (via email) about a potential whale skeleton out in Avila, which according to him is a very famous fossil site (it even has a UCMP locality number!). I wonder where those mysticetes came from here in California. Most marine deposits I know of are usually middle Miocene and onwards.

    On the sperm whale: yeah, the differences are immediate and a bit striking.

  2. Alton Dooley says:

    SVP is usually a good time, and of course I’ve left a lot out. There are social functions most nights, like the benefit auction and the closing banquet. And I think the most valuable work often gets done over lunch, or in the hotel bar after the last talks of the day. That’s when the really speculative hypotheses come out, and when new collaborations are formed. To me, the things that don’t make it into the official program are often the most valuable parts of the meeting.

    Barnes does get around; I’m working on a couple of different projects with him now. The toothed mysticete locality has also produced squalodont remains, which are very rare on the west coast (I did my doctoral work on squalodonts). We did a presentation together on one of those specimens at SVP a few years ago.

  3. Alton Dooley says:

    Zach Miller has summaries of the SVP talks he attended over on his blog:

    http://whenpigsfly-returns.blogspot.com/

    Since he mostly attended dinosaur talks, there isn’t a lot of overlap between our summaries.

  4. Doug says:

    I’ll take a look that those. And next time you’re talking to Barnes, bring my name up, just for the hell of it, and see what happens!

  5. Wow, congratulations on spelling my last name correctly! I don’t see it happen very often.

    I really enjoyed the talks on saturday, as well as all the posters throughout the week. I am really surprised at all the new students in marine mammal paleo – between this year’s SVP and last year’s, there have been five, with an additional two who have dabbled in it and gone down either a different career or research path since. As it was I was barely able to see all the talks and posters I wanted to.

    Its a nice feeling to be part of a steadily growing field… I prefer the relative size of the field to say that of dinosaur researchers, which is a very very large proportion of SVP.

  6. Alton Dooley says:

    I had to two-finger type it one letter at a time while referring to the program to get it right! Still, I was pretty pleased with myself, considering that I wrote the post after the banquet Saturday night and they kept bringing new bottles of wine to our table (that’s what I get for sitting with a bunch of graduate students!).

    Really enjoyed your talk, by the way. For those that weren’t there, Bob related an epic tale of having to drag the whale skull up a California seaside cliff. On the rivers in Virginia, we’re usually trying to figure out how to get a skull _down_ a cliff (there’s a fast way and a slow way; the slow way is preferable).

  7. B. Boessenecker says:

    Thanks a bunch! Ya… hauling that jacket off the beach and onto the old wave cut platform out of the surf, and across a 1.5′ wide bench with a 15 foot drop to the ocean, and then up the surfer’s stairs was by far the most nerve racking experience of my life. Primarily because any slip would both result in severe bodily injury as well as the loss of the most complete mysticete ever collected from the Purisima.

    Still… I think your boat story wins, by far.

  8. Alton Dooley says:

    The order of your statements suggests that you think the “severe bodily injury” to be worse than the “loss of the most complete mysticete”; surely you don’t think that? 🙂

  9. Haha, somehow I knew this would come up!

    Thats a good question… hell, thanks to bone remodeling, my bones are a renewable resource, and those of fossil whales aren’t…

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