The Pygmy Right Whale, “A Living Fossil”

Written by on December 20, 2012 in Marine Life

New findings explain why the pygmy right whale–the last living relative of an ancient group of whales that was thought to be extinct for two million years–looks so different from any other living whale.

“The living pygmy right whale is, if you like, a remnant, almost like a living fossil,” said Felix Marx, a paleontologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “It’s the last survivor of quite an ancient lineage that until now no one thought was around.”

The pygmy right whale grows to about 21 feet (6.5 meters) long and lives in the Southern Hemisphere where it is very rarely seen at the surface. Its arched snout that appears to be frowning makes it look particularly different than any other living whale.

The new findings help explain how pygmy right whales evolved and where exactly they diverged from modern whales like humpback and blue whales. This information could also help researchers understand how the pygmy whales’ ancient relatives lived.

Pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata).

Pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata). Photo credit: Lycaon.

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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