One of the most elusive whales on earth is the pygmy right whale that spends its time swimming in the waters far offshore in the Southern Hemisphere. Researchers have only spotted this very rare whale with its distinctive frown-like snout about 12 times. Now, researchers are even more puzzled because ear fossils have turned up near Japan and Italy. Doctor Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at Museums Victoria, says that understanding the migration pattern of the pygmy right whale may hold important clues to what animals will do if global warming makes their current living conditions inhospitable.
Pygmy Right Whale Heritage
This whale species has long puzzled scientists who thought it was extinct for more than two million years. Once believed to be ancestors of baleen whales, many scientists now believe that they are actually ancestors of the Cetotheres whale family that included the bowhead whale.
Migration for Food
The latest findings of fossils north of the equator suggests that the pygmy right whale may have migrated based on the availability of food. As water temperatures rise, food becomes less available. Therefore, these whales moved north looking for more plentiful feeding grounds. As the waters cooled, then they moved south where they could find more food. Until now, it was assumed that pygmy right whales never crossed the equator because the ocean there contains very little food.
Crossed Equator Many Times
Fitzgerald says that the fossils found in Japan and Italy date from almost 1 million years apart. One fossil dates to about 0.5 to 0.9 million years ago while the other dates 1.7 million to 1.9 million years old. Biologists suggest that this may indicate that these whales crossed the equator many times as the waters warmed and cooled. Scientists theorize that whales and other animals may do the same thing today if the climate continues to change based on their study of the rare pygmy right whale.
Pygmy right whales continue to baffle scientists because their fossils have been found in Italy and Japan. The scientists theorize that this species of whale migrated as water temperatures changed. They believe that other animals are likely to do the same thing if global warming continues.