PerspectivePaleontology

On Giant Filter Feeders

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Science  19 Feb 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5968, pp. 968-969
DOI: 10.1126/science.1186904

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Summary

The largest living marine vertebrates—baleen whales and several lineages of sharks and rays—feed directly on very small organisms (such as plankton and small fishes). Planktivorous sharks and rays collect food by filtering seawater through gill rakers (fingerlike projections on gill arches), whereas mysticete whales sieve small animals from seawater through whalebone or baleen (comblike keratin structures in their upper jaws) (1, 2). On page 990 of this issue, Friedman et al. show that the first known large pelagic filter feeders, a group of ray-finned fishes, persisted between 170 and 65 million years ago (3). And on page 993, Marx and Uhen show that in the Tertiary (65 to 2.5 million years ago), the diversity of mysticete whales was linked to the diversity of diatoms and to climatic variations (4).