Diversity and evolution of New Zealand’s marine mammals

Te Papa researchers: Felix Marx and Alan Tennyson

New Zealand waters abound in marine mammals, from nearly half the world’s species of whales and dolphins to fur seals, sea lions, and a smattering of (sub)Antarctic seals. We study fossils and living marine mammals to elucidate their diversity and evolution through deep time. Combining anatomy and DNA, we investigate how different species are related to each other, and how, when and why they diverged.

Our work focuses on New Zealand and the Southern Ocean, but the highly mobile nature of marine mammals often means that we collaborate with researchers from around the globe.

Left: Back of a humpback whale, Japan. Right: Skull fossils of a dolphin and a seal from New Zealand. Photos by Felix Marx

Main collaborators: University of Otago (Dunedin), Museums Victoria and Monash University (Melbourne, Australia), Centro Nacional Patagónico (Puerto Madryn, Argentina).

Funding: Marsden Fund, Australian Research Council, European Commission.

Representative publications:

Fordyce RE, Marx FG. 2018. Gigantism precedes filter feeding in baleen whale evolution. Current Biology 28: 1670-1676.

Marx FG, Buono MR, Evans AR, Fordyce RE, Reguero M, Hocking DP. 2019. Gigantic mysticete predators roamed the Eocene Southern Ocean. Antarctic Science 31: 98-104.

Marx FG, Fitzgerald EMG, Fordyce RE. 2019. Like phoenix from the ashes: how modern baleen whales arose from a fossil ‘dark age’. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 64: 231-238.