Tetrapod Zoology

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Every now and again a carcass of a large marine animal washes up on a beach somewhere: local people and journalists identify it as a monster, and all hell breaks loose. Inevitably, the carcass turns out to be a decomposing whale or shark. Typically, it now becomes known that a person who arrived at the scene early on stated exactly this, but, because their conclusion was rather boring, it was ignored – or mentioned only in the very last paragraph of a newspaper article. We’ve looked at this sort of thing before, many times, on Tet Zoo: see the links below.

Last year cryptozoological investigator Richard Freeman told me that his Ukrainian colleague Grigory Panchenko owned new data on a particularly interesting marine mammal carcass from Russia. According to Panchenko, this carcass was that of an extremely unusual cetacean: it not only represented a new species, it was also, apparently, a modern-day archaeocete. ‘Archaeocete’ is the term conventionally used for the stem-whales of the Eocene: a motley assortment of amphibious and aquatic cetaceans that lacked the specialisations of Neoceti (the odontocete + mysticete clade). They varied considerably in body shape and lifestyle. The best known ‘archaeocetes’ are the basilosaurids and the (probably paraphyletic) dorudontids of the Late Eocene, all of which were obligatorily aquatic and with fusiform bodies, strongly reduced hindlimbs, and tail flukes. Uhen (2008) coined the name Pelagiceti for the Basilosauridae + Neoceti clade.

For complex and erroneous reasons, cryptozoologists have long favoured the idea that various stem-whale lineages did not become extinct in the Eocene, but in fact survived to the present. Here we find putative identities behind various modern sea-serpents and so on. This is not taken seriously by palaeontologists (actually, few palaeontologists even know about it) and, whether sea-serpents exist or not, the ‘surviving archaeocete hypothesis’ is, as I said, based on erroneous ideas and lacks supporting evidence [image of the best known 'archaeocete', Basilosaurus, shown below. From Naish (2004)].

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Anyway, Richard and I were both very interested in this hitherto undiscussed carcass and looked forward to receiving more information. Thanks to Richard, I’ve recently learnt that a written report was produced by Panchenko and Sergei Litvinyuk. Titled ‘Description and tentative identification of a sea animal carcass discovered on Sakhalin Island’, it was published in Russian but, in 1989, was translated into English by Dmitri Bayanov. Richard was good enough to pass on a copy, and here are my thoughts.

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The carcass concerned washed ashore at Sakhalin Island, Russia, in 1986. During September of that year it was examined and photographed by Litvinyuk: at the time he was on a geological expedition to the region. The carcass had washed ashore near Gornozavodsk on the coast of the Strait of Tartary, and Litvinyuk concluded that it was that of a beaked whale. Because he identified it as a member of a known species (though the species concerned is not mentioned in the report), he didn’t collect a sample. It was about 8 m long with a smooth, dark integument. Damage to the tail meant that flukes were absent and naked vertebrae were visible. The long, flattened jaws (over one metre long) were beak-like, and were reported to contain teeth. However, the report is somewhat ambiguous on the nature of the teeth. They are described as ‘forming one row’, and said to be straight, conical, rounded in cross-section, and about 10 cm long. It is also stated in the report that ‘one or two pairs’ of closely spaced teeth were present at the very tips of the jaws, and that they ‘resembl[ed] incisors of hoofed mammals’. This is, I think, a pretty big clue to the real identity of the carcass, as we’ll see in a moment.

So what was the Sakhalin Island carcass? For starters, it was, without doubt, that of a cetacean. Panchenko and Litvinyuk argued that such groups as kogiids and delphinids could be excluded from comparison, and I agree. But what about Litvinyuk’s original identification of the carcass as that of a ziphiid, or beaked whale? Based on the apparent presence of a number of teeth in the upper jaws, and of an upper jaw that overhung the lower, the authors concluded that a ziphiid identity could be excluded. They also thought that the presence of a ‘crop’ in the neck excluded a ziphiid identity. By ‘crop’ they were referring to a large convexity in the throat: their use of the term ‘crop’ is rather confusing given that (among tetrapods) crops are unique to birds, and there is no structure in a cetacean, or indeed in any mammal, that can be referred to by this term. Finally, because the large incisor-like teeth were at the tips of the upper jaws, this cetacean must (so the authors argued) have had a premaxillary dentition, and they also noted that this was inconsistent with a ziphiid identification.

The presence of an elongate upper jaw that overhung the lower, of a ‘crop’, and of a premaxillary dentition led the authors to come to a startling conclusion: that the carcass was not that of any known whale species, nor that of a whale belonging to any known ‘family’. It was, they proposed, perhaps a living archaeocete. While they admitted that this conclusion was preliminary, it’s an incredible claim.

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Unfortunately, it’s clearly completely wrong. As is obvious from the photos that were taken at the time, the carcass is that of a ziphiid. Furthermore, the distinctive shape of the long, superficially duck-billed jaws shows that it’s clearly a fourtooth whale (Berardius), almost certainly Baird’s beaked whale B. bairdii [see adjacent photo of a Baird's beaked whale, taken from the Smithsonian's Beaked Whale Identification Guide, but flipped horizontally for easier comparison]. Here we find the explanation for those ‘incisor-like’ teeth at the front of the jaws. Berardius has four teeth in the lower (not upper!) jaws, two of which are located right at the jaw tips and do look superficially incisor-like. Berardius really is highly distinctive and I’m absolutely certain that the carcass belonged to this animal, and note that this is not, in fact, the first time that a fourtooth whale carcass has been identified as some sort of hitherto unknown, late-surviving prehistoric creature.

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What about the discrepancies that led Panchenko and Litvinyuk to come to the archaeocete conclusion? The sad fact is that they interpreted the creature upside down. They described it as lying on its left side which, if you look at the photos, would mean that the shorter jaw is the lower one (whereas it’s actually the upper one), and that the bulging forehead becomes a bulging throat. Oops. I regret to say that I cannot congratulate the authors on a good job. One problem remains however: the authors implied that there were more than the four teeth typically present in Berardius. Given that the only photos I’ve seen show the carcass in the water, given the great ambiguity in their text about the exact number and morphology of the teeth, and given the otherwise convincing evidence that this was a Berardius carcass, I must conclude that this was in error and can be ignored. So, alas, a modern-day stem-whale was definitely not discovered on a Russian beach in 1986 after all. Dammit. Like all crazy ideas, I still wish it were true :)

To be fair however, the authors did say that the archaeocete conclusion was preliminary, and they noted that, if their interpretation was incorrect, then a ziphiid identification was more likely. They noted that, if the carcass was that of a ziphiid, it belonged to a species ‘probably close to, but not identical with, Tasmacetus shepherdi‘, the Shepherd’s or Tasman beaked whale.

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What happened to the carcass? After enquiries, Panchenko and Litvinyuk learnt that it had been broken up and used to feed pigs and poultry, and that what remained had been washed away by a storm. That last clause sounds poetic, so I’ll repeat it as I don’t otherwise know how to end this article…. what remained had been washed away by a storm.

UPDATE: here’s a quick sketch I just knocked up for fun.

For other Tet Zoo articles on sea monster carcasses see…

Refs – -

Naish, D. 2004. Fossils explained 46. Ancient toothed whales. Geology Today 20 (2), 72-77.

Uhen, M. D. 2008. New protocetid whales from Alabama and Mississippi, and a new cetacean clade, Pelagiceti. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28, 589-593.

Comments

  1. #1 Carlos
    March 30, 2009

    People that bother to study anatomy: 1
    Idiots: 0

  2. #2 Christopher Taylor
    March 30, 2009

    Funnily enough, I was looking at the photo the right way around all through. And I don’t know buttons from whales.

    Don’t Berardius occassionally have smaller teeth presenting in the jaws in addition to the two large ones? If the specimen was such an individual, that could be more consistent with the description.

  3. #3 Dartian
    March 30, 2009

    It’s a bit surprising to see this kind of ‘surviving archaeocete’ nonsense coming from the former USSR. Given the size and the economic importance of the Soviet whaling industry, one would think that there would have been plenty of authoritative people around who would recognise a beaked whale carcass when they saw one.

  4. #4 Cameron
    March 30, 2009

    Chris,

    I don’t recall vestigial teeth being reported from Berardius, but they are known in Ziphius and Hyperoodon ampullatus. Since Berardius appears to be a basal ziphiid and I doubt the gums are examined for vestigial teeth with any frequency, their occasional presence seems likely. Could decomposition (theoretically) expose them?

  5. #5 Nemo Ramjet
    March 30, 2009

    Seriously, didn’t they notice where the eye was? What sort of tetrapod would have its eye in the lower half of their jaw?

  6. #6 Metalraptor
    March 30, 2009

    At least some scientific good will come out of it. Aren’t a lot of beaked whale species known from only a single specimen or so in a lot of cases? If so, a carcass, even one originally misidentified as a “surviving archaeocete”, could help the scientific community quite a bit.

    Musing on the idea of archaeocete whales, could it not be that these “sea serpents” represent a lineage of aetiocetid whales? For those who are not versed in Oligocene fossils or cetacean natural history, aetiocetids are primitive mysticete whales containing a full complement of small, sharp teeth in their jaws. Originally misidentified as archaeocetes, aetiocetes were found to be basal baleen whales in later studies. So how hard could it be for an aetiocetid whale to redevelop the long, sea serpent-esque body of their ancestors.

  7. #7 Cameron
    March 30, 2009

    Aren’t a lot of beaked whale species known from only a single specimen or so in a lot of cases?

    Nope – although Mesoplodon traversii is only known from a mandible and a couple calvaria. Ziphiids aren’t well known, but they’ve not that poorly known!

    If so, a carcass, even one originally misidentified as a “surviving archaeocete”, could help the scientific community quite a bit.

    Japan has a quota of 66 Berardius bairdii per annum.

  8. #8 Erich Fitzgerald
    March 30, 2009

    There is simply NO evidence of ‘extant archaeocetes’ surviving into Recent times. End of story and case closed on the possibility of attributing modern ‘sea serpents’ to relict archaeocetes. Nonetheless, it is important to stress that archaeocetes actually did not become extinct with the close of the Eocene, some 34 million years ago. We now know that a clade of specialized archaeocetes (Kekenodontidae, which appear to be the sister group of Neoceti) survived through the Oligocene, and perhaps into the Early Miocene. That’s as recently as about 21 million years ago.
    Examples of kekenodontids include:
    (1) Kekenodon onamata–Late Oligocene, New Zealand
    (2) ‘Squalodon’ gambierensis–Late Oligocene, Australia
    (3) Phococetus vasconum–?Early Miocene, France
    In addition there are several, as yet undescribed, skulls of kekenodontids from the Late Oligocene of New Zealand (under study by Dr R. Ewan Fordyce).

  9. #9 Lilian Nattel
    March 30, 2009

    interesting puzzle!

  10. #10 David Marjanović
    March 30, 2009

    So how hard could it be for an aetiocetid whale to redevelop the long, sea serpent-esque body of their ancestors.

    Basilosaurus is not an ancestor of anything known. Phylogenetic trees really are trees, not poles.

  11. #11 Dr Vector
    March 30, 2009

    Basilosaurus is not an ancestor of anything known. Phylogenetic trees really are trees, not poles.

    Outstanding line! I am definitely going to be stealing that for every time I discuss evolution with almost anyone for the rest of my life.

    Great article, Darren. It is so obvious that the carcass was interpreted upside-down that I almost wonder if it was done tongue-in-cheek. It is hard to believe that anyone who knows beans about whales could really be that obtuse. Then again, beach carcasses seem to emit some kind of gas that lowers the IQ of those who find them by about 50 points, minimum.

  12. #12 Seabold
    March 30, 2009

    RE:”Seriously, didn’t they notice where the eye was? What sort of tetrapod would have its eye in the lower half of their jaw?”

    Yeah, that sounds odd…but looking at it from the point of view of someone who isn’t used to seeing it…a lot of whales to seem to have eyes that are located very “low” on the head, at least when compared to other aquatic animals (i.e. crocodilians, hippos etc.) which they may be more familiar with. It’s probably also a bit of “the eye sees what it wants to see”.

  13. #13 Metalraptor
    March 30, 2009

    I never said that aetiocetids evolved from the genus Basilosaurus, I said that they evolved from the advanced archaeocetes, many of which have a more serpentine form such as Zygorhiza or Basilosaurus. But not once did I say that Aetiocetids are descended from any specific genus of archaeocete. There is no way to prove that one family of animals descended from a certain species, especially via cladistics. Please do not put words in my mouth.

  14. #14 Mark Lees
    March 30, 2009

    Interesting. The photo is not that clear. But it does look like a ziphiid, and in the North Pacific a large ziphiid, with apical teeth and ‘bulging forehead’ sounds like Baird’s.

    But there are a few problems with this. You mention the matter of the teeth. You write that it is “described as ‘forming one row’, and said to be straight, conical, rounded in cross-section, and about 10 cm long”. I have only seen pictures of skulls of Baird’s, but that doesn’t seem to desribe it. Baird’s has only 4 – the description, while confusing, suggests more. The shape doesn’t sound right either. “‘one or two pairs’ of closely spaced teeth were present at the very tips of the jaws, and that they ‘resembl[ed] incisors of hoofed mammals’.” – Note it says “closely spaced” – in Baird’s the gap between the first and second pairs is said to be 15 to 20 cm – that doesn’t sound close to me.

    Also the jaw is said to have been over a meter long. I don’t have an measurements for the jaw, but it seems rather long for a specimen that is not full size (it is said to be only 8m, Baird’s reaches over 12m). Indeed looking at the photos, and comparing them with photos and artwork of Baird’s in several books and on the internet, the beak looks proportionately longer. This may be due to the angle of the photo, but I am not so sure.

    I guess what I’m saying is that, yes it looks like a ziphiid, and under the circumstances Baird’s is the most likely, but there are quite a few discrepancies, and I’m not entirely convinced. I’m usually completely with you in your identification of alleged cryptid photos/remains (I think I have only disagreed once) – and on this one, while you may well be right, I don’t think the evidence such as it is allows identification beyond, ‘probable ziphiid, possible Baird’s’.

    Regarding archaeocetes becoming extinct in the Eocene, it has been said, but is worth repeating that archaeocetes are known from the Oligocene, and possibly more recently.

    Erich Fitzgerald mentions the Kekenodontidae. Some sources treat them as toothed baleen whales, but it seems that they are now best thought of as archaeocetes, and these certainly made it to the upper Oligocene, and likely Lower Miocene. I have also found references to several lower Oligocene, and at least one possible upper Oligocene occurance of archaeocetes other than kekenodontids.

    I mentioned in a previous response to the pinniped paper posting that I had seen references to a more recent archaeocete fossil. I found the very brief notes I made in 2004 when doing a bit of personal research. At least two sources referred to a Pleistocene (not Pliocene as I stated previously) occurence of an archaeocete. I didn’t make a note of the sources (foolish I know), but I did note that they referred to a fossil, very tentatively assigned to the genus Pontogeneus, in the Pleistocene of Florida. I noted that one of the sources commented “presumably the formation is wrong”. I assume the attribution of the fossil to the Pleistocene is a mistake, but if anyone knows what happened to the fossil, and what if any evidence there is as to it’s true origin, I would love to know.

    Darren, you state that “the ‘surviving archaeocete hypothesis’ is, as I said, based on erroneous ideas and lacks supporting evidence”.

    I remain puzzled as to why a pinniped identity for some of the sea serpent sightings is thought more probable than a cetacean one. Surely neither hypothesis has got much by way of supporting evidence. And if the ‘erroneous idea’ is late survival of archaeocetes, then I would respond that at least they DID exist – the supposed pinnipeds are not even extinct, they are currently entirely hypothetical. It’s not that I think an archaeocete identity likely (I accept they probably became extinct in the Upper Oligocene or Lower Miocene), I just think that it is at least as likely as the existence of mega pinnipeds for which there is no fossil or other physical evidence whatsoever.

    Thanks for the posting. Wonderful food for thought.

  15. #15 Jerzy
    March 30, 2009

    > Given the size and the economic importance of the Soviet
    > whaling industry, one would think that there would have been > plenty of authoritative people around who would recognise a > beaked whale carcass when they saw one.

    Well, not.

    Not exactly tetrapod – who can name this extraterrestrial visitor, who was caught and eaten (yes!) by Russians?

    http://english.pravda.ru/science/mysteries/07-02-2007/87167-alien_monster-0

  16. #16 Craig York
    March 30, 2009

    I believe thats a guitarfish, if memory serves. Kin to the Skates and Rays, and yes, never a tetrapod. Also
    soundly de-bunked any number of places five minutes after
    it appeared.

    I don’t have the technical chops to have a strong opinion
    one way or another, but it does seem to me that Mr.Lees
    poses a couple of good questions in his closing paragraphs.

  17. #17 Boesse
    March 30, 2009

    Mark,

    I’m not 100% familiar with Neogene Florida stratigraphy, but a lot of fossils are collected as float in Florida (in rivers, on beaches, etc.). Additionally, there are many deposits in Florida where there is considerable reworking happening.

    Seeing as multicuspate ‘cheek teeth’ of archaeocetes and primitive neoceti disappeared by at least the late Miocene (that is, everywhere else on earth, with the exception of this single specimen), and the propensity for reworking in the stratigraphic record of Florida, I’d say the specimen is reworked, collected as float, or published/collected by someone with poor stratigraphic/locality knowledge.

    Bobby

  18. #18 Darren Naish
    March 30, 2009

    Response to Mark.. Hi, wow, that’s a pretty long comment and I don’t have the time for a full response. Having said that…

    – The animal really does looks like a Baird’s beaked whale from the photos, and I’m absolutely certain that’s what it is. That really is what they look like! As for the discrepancies you note, I think these complications should be ignored. On the teeth, the original text is so confused that it’s not possible to work out what the authors really mean, though they did indeed say there were ‘numerous’ teeth (yeah, but they also said that there was a crop). The ‘closely spaced’ referred to those teeth ‘sat on the very tip of both jaws, set closely together and resembling incisors of hoofed mammals’. Given that Litvinyuk examined the carcass while it was in the water (the photos you see above are the ones he took when examining it), I also think that these observations are suspect. Furthermore, no teeth are visible in the photos. As for jaw length and so on, the human arm in the very top photo provides a sense of scale. My elbow-to-knuckle length is about 40 cm, so let’s assume this for the person in the top photo. Well, the whale’s longest jaw (the lower one) doesn’t look more than twice as long as 40 cm: in fact it looks something like 60-70 cm long by comparison. That’s fine for Baird’s beaked whale: look at the photos here.

    – I’ve always thought that, if ‘pro-archaeocete’ cryptozoologists (if you will) learnt about kekenodontids (Ewan Fordyce has been saying for years that new specimens demonstrate the survival of stem-cetaceans beyond the end of the Eocene), they might play this card to their favour. However, they would be mistaken for two reasons. Firstly, the post-Eocene stem-cetaceans of the cryptozoological literature (e.g., those of Heuvelmans) are – specifically – seal-like protocetids and long-bodied basilosaurids. These two groups were chosen specifically because of their unusual morphologies compared to modern whales. Secondly, kekenodontids were, like ‘dorudontids’, closely related to Neoceti and evidently much like them in overall morphology (fusiform shape, presence of tail flukes etc.), so they are utterly irrelevant to the cryptozoological hypothesis. It relied, after all, on the idea that things such as basilosaurids were serpentine (which they weren’t: long-bodied does NOT mean serpentine), or armoured (which they weren’t), or that they differed fundamentally from extant cetaceans in swimming style (which they didn’t).

    – The ‘archaeocete hypothesis’ can be described as erroneous because it rests entirely on erroneous ideas about basilosaurid life appearance. There is a fairly extensive cryptozoological literature on all this (Naish 1996a, b, 2000, 2001, 2003), though none of it is easy to obtain.

    – Why are hypothetical mega-pinnipeds (more or less) ok, while post-Eocene stem-cetaceans are a no-no? Answer: (1) because there are some eyewitness accounts that really do seem to describe crypto-pinnipeds, (2) because weird crypto-pinnipeds are not discordant with the fossil record (unlike post-Eocene basilosaurids; there ARE lots of weird, big fossil pinnipeds), and (3) because, in contrast, there is no evidence whatsoever for post-Eocene protocetids or basilosaurids. My point has always been that, whether marine cryptids exist or not, such things as weird big pinnipeds are theoretically more likely than things like the late-surviving relict plesiosaurs and archaeocetes favoured by the prehistoric survivor paradigm.

    Refs – -

    Naish, D. 1996a. Ancient whales, sea serpents and nessies part one: pros and cons. Animals & Men 9, 16-23.

    - . 1996b. Ancient whales, sea serpents and nessies part 2: theorising on survival. Animals & Men 10, 13-21.

    - . 2000. Where be monsters? Fortean Times 132, 40-44.

    - . 2001. Sea serpents, seals and coelacanths: an attempt at a holistic approach to the identity of large aquatic cryptids. In Simmons, I. & Quin, M. (eds) Fortean Studies Volume 7. John Brown Publishing (London), pp. 75-94.

    - . 2003. Darren Naish on plesiosaurs, basilosaurs, and problems with reconstructions. North American BioFortean Review 5 (3, Issue # 12), 10-19.

  19. #19 Rob Jase
    March 30, 2009

    At least the original authors didn’t decide it was a plesiosaur, that was left up to the YECs here in the US.

  20. #20 TJ
    March 30, 2009

    Supernumerary teeth are known in Berardius. Tadeo Kirino (1956) reports 10 of 65 adult specimens with more than 2 teeth per lower jaw and 2 specimens with 4 or more teeth in at least one lower jaw.

    Okajimas Folia Anatomica Japonica 28:429-34 1956

  21. #21 Boesse
    March 30, 2009

    “Basilosaurus is not an ancestor of anything known. Phylogenetic trees really are trees, not poles.”

    So… evolution is just constant speciation and cladogenesis, all the time? I’m not sure if I get this right. Hopefully you’re not saying anagenesis doesn’t happen.

    If you magnify the tree, you do get to a point where parts of it look like a pole.

  22. #22 Stevo Darkly
    March 30, 2009

    Jerzy — I think I have seen that “face” before. I believe it is a skate or ray.

  23. #23 Stevo Darkly
    March 30, 2009

    Oops, for some reason I didn’t see until just now that Craig York had already provided a more specific answer.

  24. #24 DDeden
    March 31, 2009

    Funny they didn’t note the blowhole position.

    Well, this is a neat little video, has a giraffe, sea monster, gorillutan?, trashbags, ‘barking’ canine, alien. I didn’t see a brontothere but maybe that too. It brought a smile.
    trash most beautiful

  25. #25 Dartian
    March 31, 2009

    Since we’re talking about beaked whales… Those interested in ziphiids might want to take a look at The Beaked Whale Resource site. (The link can also be found on the left sidebar of this page.)

  26. #26 David Marjanović
    March 31, 2009

    I said that they evolved from the advanced archaeocetes, many of which have a more serpentine form such as Zygorhiza or Basilosaurus.

    I have to check Zygorhiza again then, but IIRC the only exaggeratedly long-bodied one is Basilosaurus, so I had to assume…

    There is no way to prove that one family of animals descended from a certain species, especially via cladistics.

    Worse yet, we have positive evidence that (in this case) it didn’t happen, see below.

    Hopefully you’re not saying anagenesis doesn’t happen.

    I’m of course not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m saying that the fossil record is a very, very small sample of past biodiversities. Our chances of finding an ancestor (outside of nannoplankton) are negligible – and indeed, practically all vertebrate fossils show autapomorphies, which make it unparsimonious to assume that they’re ancestors of anything known.

  27. #27 John Conway
    March 31, 2009

    I disagree David. I think in some vertebrate assemblages (especially megafauna), there are going to be direct ancestor-descendant relationships going on. I’m thinking Campanian-Maastrictian dinosaur assemblages of North America and Asia are going to have examples of anagenesis. Sauropods of the late Jurassic are another example–how many of those feckers could there be? Is it really that unlikely that one of the currently known ones were the direct ancestors of known Cretaceous sauropods? I don’t think so.

    The fact that cladistics does not recover these relationships is more to do with the limitation of cladistics (in that reversals during anagenesis will come out as autapomorphies) than the lack of examples in the fossil record, I should think.

  28. #28 DF
    March 31, 2009


    I’m of course not saying [anagenesis] doesn’t happen. I’m saying that the fossil record is a very, very small sample of past biodiversities. Our chances of finding an ancestor (outside of nannoplankton) are negligible – and indeed, practically all vertebrate fossils show autapomorphies, which make it unparsimonious to assume that they’re ancestors of anything known.

    This isn’t true at all. In my experience, the people who say the fossil record is bad (yes, even the vert fossil record) are people who don’t do any fieldwork, shich doesn;t really qualify them to say anything about the quality of the record. The vertebrate fossil record is, in fact, sporadically good rather than universally bad. Some of these sporadically good patches contain groups of taxa that are more likely to represent anagenesis than cladogenesis. The main crux of this problem is that the cladistic method cannot depict ancestor-descendent relationships, and most workers choose to define characters in a non-discrete fashion: emphasising differences rather than similarities.

    I see no reason to place cladogenesis as the null hypothesis, as so many of you do.

  29. #29 Boesse
    March 31, 2009

    I disagree. Not being able to demonstrate anagenesis with cladistics only highlights the limits of cladistics (uh, damn; J. Conway used similar language above); it isn’t the end-all, be-all.

    Like DF says, the fossil record is excellent in small chunks, where you can easily see anagenesis occurring. With good sample sizes of certain taxa (scattered throughout the stratigraphic column), you can tell on the <10 Ma scale whether cladogenesis occurs; if not, a lineage obviously isn’t branching, and is undergoing anagenesis.

  30. #30 Mark Lees
    March 31, 2009

    Darren, I consider myself answered (amost) to my satisfaction. :)

    Bobby – yes, I assume that reworking, or a simple mistake about the formation, is the most probable answer, but it would have been nice to get a bit more info.

  31. #31 David Marjanović
    March 31, 2009

    I’m thinking Campanian-Maastrictian dinosaur assemblages of North America and Asia are going to have examples of anagenesis. Sauropods of the late Jurassic are another example–how many of those feckers could there be? Is it really that unlikely that one of the currently known ones were the direct ancestors of known Cretaceous sauropods?

    Sure, because our geographic sampling is sporadic, and our temporal sampling is pretty sporadic, too. Anagenesis within the Dinosaur Park Formation is, I think, a realistic option; between the Dinosaur Park and the Hell Creek… :-/

    The vertebrate fossil record is, in fact, sporadically good rather than universally bad.

    I agree fully — it’s just that those sporadically good parts are highly restricted geographically and usually span just a few thousand or hundred thousand years, with millions or tens of millions between them.

    The main crux of this problem is that the cladistic method cannot depict ancestor-descendent relationships, and most workers choose to define characters in a non-discrete fashion: emphasising differences rather than similarities.

    I see no reason to place cladogenesis as the null hypothesis, as so many of you do.

    I explicitly said I was not arguing from an absence of evidence (and thus from a null hypothesis)! I said I’m arguing from the presence of autapomorphies! I am not saying a zero-length branch in a cladogram must in fact be a branch, I’m saying there are practically no zero-length branch in the (pre-Miocene or something?) vertebrate fossil record. Give me a taxon that lacks autapomorphies and has the right age, and then we can talk about whether it’s an ancestor.* Otherwise Ockham’s Razor has something against it.

    * But unfortunately no more. Science cannot prove, only disprove. On the other hand, here, too, parsimony applies. I have no problem with Homo erectus being a direct ancestor of us, because the global fossil record of the last couple weeks ice ages really is good.

    In my experience, the people who say the fossil record is bad (yes, even the vert fossil record) are people who don’t do any fieldwork, shich doesn;t really qualify them to say anything about the quality of the record.

    I have done a total of four weeks of fieldwork in the former clay pit of Krasiejów (southern Poland, where Silesaurus comes from), where some layers are bonebeds of mostly Metoposaurus remains, including lots and lots perfectly preserved skulls. Anagenesis within that pit? Fine (although the possibility of immigration must of course not be ignored). Anagenesis between that pit and the, as far as can be told, coeval Metoposaurus sites in central Germany? Entirely possible, but an indefensible hypothesis. Anagenesis between that pit and the Rhaetian one of Lisowice 60 km away (the one with the huge dicynodont and the thing-described-as-a-theropod)? Paleofantasy.

  32. #32 David Marjanović
    March 31, 2009

    Not being able to demonstrate anagenesis with cladistics only highlights the limits of cladistics

    When you see a zero-length branch in a cladogram, check the age of that taxon; if it fits, you have a potential ancestor.

    With good sample sizes of certain taxa (scattered throughout the stratigraphic column), you can tell on the

    Yes? It looks like you accidentally hit “Post” or maybe used a < sign that got interpreted as HTML.

    I wrote:

    because the global fossil record of the last couple weeks ice ages really is good.

    …so that it’s hard to imagine where the real ancestor could have been hiding, I mean.

  33. #33 Richard Freeman
    April 1, 2009

    I thought it was a beaked whale as soon as i saw the photo. The verbal discription i was given whilst in Russia was of a much more ‘crocodilian’ shaped animal.
    By the way i have never brought the archaeocete theory in relation to sea serpents.

  34. #34 Boesse
    April 1, 2009

    “Anagenesis between that pit and the, as far as can be told, coeval Metoposaurus sites in central Germany? Entirely possible, but an indefensible hypothesis.”

    Why? That doesn’t make any sense; if the age determinations are good, then it doesn’t matter how far apart they are.

    Ya, I used a > symbol. Same point, though. Like you stated… cladistics can test anagenetic hypotheses, and also can demonstrate it as the most parsimonious tree topology (e.g. sequentially nested sister taxa, where the nodes match up with stratigraphy). The fossil record is far better than most assume; anagenesis does after all involve ‘less’ going on than cladogenesis, and strikes me as what should be the null hypothesis; why anagenesis is such a foreign/scary concept to some, I know not.

  35. #35 Sordes
    April 4, 2009

    I think one main reason why some cryptozoologists favour the Basilosaurus-typed archaeoceti as origins of several sea-and lake monsters is the problem of the vertical undulation reported for several “monsters”. The stereotypical many-humped sea serpent, and its lake monster-cousins like Ogopogo can´t be hardly explained by a long eel-like fish, because most fish move with horizontal undulation of their body. In contrast Basilosaurus as a mammal moved its body and tail horizontally (okay, there are amphibious mammals like desmans which move their tails horizontally), and as it had a very long body, this would make a good sea-serpent candidate. One of the problems, beside the completely lacking evidence for any really late-surviving Basilosaurids, is that even a Basilosaurs would be never able to look “many-humped”. One week ago I sculpted a small Basilosaurus model (I hope you received the E-mail Darren), and I used for several reasons even a somewhat more elongated skeletal drawing as reference. It turned out more elongated and slimmer than the BBC-Basilosaurus (which also had several anatomical erros like the completely false shape of the molars and premolars), but even with this body, it would be hardly possible to see more than one “hump” over the surface, and even if we count the head and fluke as “humps” too, this would be still far away from the many-humped sea serpent.

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