Abstract

The earliest fossil gray whale (Eschrichtius) from the eastern North Pacific is reported from the Lower Pleistocene Rio Dell Formation of Humboldt County, Northern California. This specimen, a tympanic bulla and posterior process, is identical in morphology to extant Eschrichtius robustus and differs from Pliocene Eschrichtius sp. from the western North Pacific (Japan). Thus, it suggests that the modern bulla morphology of the gray whale had been acquired by the Early Pleistocene. The absence of fossil Eschrichtius in the Pliocene of the eastern North Pacific may indicate that the extant gray whale lineage originated in the western North Pacific during the Pliocene before invading the eastern North Pacific during the Early Pleistocene. Further discoveries of Plio-Pleistocene gray whale fossils will help test this hypothesis and properly interpret the evolutionary history of eschrichtiid clade.

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