Sitsqwayk: Not a transitional (toothed/baleen) whale

Sitsqwik cornishorum (Peredo and Uhen 2016, Fig. 1) was originally considered a transitional whale linking toothy aetiotheres to toothless mysticetes (but only in the absence of desmostylians).

Figure 1. Sitsqwayk reconstruction over the ghosted image of Cetotherium. 456 cm represents the 'total body length' according to Peredo and Uhen 2016. The rostrum is restored shorter here to match the mandible.

Figure 1. Sitsqwayk reconstruction over the ghosted image of Cetotherium. 456 cm represents the ‘total body length’ according to Peredo and Uhen 2016. Seems too short. The largely restored rostrum is shorter here to match the mandible.

Taxon exclusion issues
Here testing a wider gamut of mysticete ancestor candidates, Sitsqwayk nests between Cetotherium and two other cetotheres,  Yamatocetus and TokarahiaSitsqwayk has a short rostrum, a convex posterior mandible and a relatively large scapula. The total length was reported as 456 cm, which would make it proportionately much shorter than Cetotherium (ghosted Fig. 1), based on a common scapula size.

Figure 2. Subset of the LRT focusing on mysticetes, including Sitsqwayk, and their predecessors.

Figure 2. Subset of the LRT focusing on mysticetes, including Sitsqwayk, and their mesonychid and desmostylian predecessors. Note that hippos are not artiodactyls, contra tradition.

The term chaeomysticeti (see citation below)
refers to the ‘toothless’ mysticetes. Such a clade is only possible if aetiocetes and Mammalodon are considered mysticetes, but they are not in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1201 taxa) where all mysticetes are toothless and they arise from desmostylians. Mammalodon has teeth, but it is basal to desmostylians, which progressively loose their teeth as they transition to baleen.

Going one step further…
current evidence (i.e. the LRT) indicates that mysticetes should be divided between right whales and all other mysticetes, both with desmostylian ancestors with legs.

It only takes the deletion of a few taxa
to nest odontocetes with mysticetes, or to nest mysticetes with odontocetes in the LRT, due to massive convergence in living whales… as you might expect. That’s why taxon exclusion can be such a problem in phylogenetic analysis. (Keyword: ‘taxon exclusion‘ for dozens of examples of this in this blog).

References
Peredo CM and Uhen MD 2016. A new basal chaeomysticete (Mammalia: Cetacea) from the Late Oligocene Pysht Formation of Washington, USA. Papers in Palaeontology. 2 (4): 533–554.

wiki/Cetotherium
wiki/Sitsqwayk

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