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Temporal range: Pliocene
Balaenula balaenopsis.jpg
Balaenula balaenopsis skeleton
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Family: Balaenidae
Genus: Balaenula
van Beneden, 1872

Balaenula is an extinct genus of cetacean.


Cladistic analyses of fossils and extant balaenids place Balaenula as the sister taxon of right whales in a clade separate from the bowhead whale.[1][2]

Fossil records[edit]

This genus is known in the fossil records from the Neogene to the Quaternary (age range: from 11.608 to 1.806 million years ago). Fossils are found in the marine strata of Italy, United Kingdom, United States, the Netherlands, France and Japan.[1][3][4]

The most complete specimen known from the U.S.[5] (as well as the only one on display in North America[6]) was found at Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina in 2008. The whale's skull was excavated from the limestone outcropping by the state's Underwater Archaeology Branch, prepared, and permanently displayed at the Lake Waccamaw Depot Museum starting 2012.[7]


Fossil skull and mandibles of Balaenula astensis from Portacomaro (Asti)

There are two currently recognized species of Balaenula:[4]

Balaenula astensis was quite similar to the living right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) but much smaller, reaching a length of about 5 metres (16 ft). This ancient mysticete lived about four million years ago. Fossils have been found near Asti (Northern Italy), in a Zanclean/Piacenzian marine sandstone.[4]

An unnamed species from Japan (represented by a partial skeleton) is also known.[10]


  1. ^ a b M. Bisconti. 2003. Evolutionary history of Balaenidae. Craniium 20(1):9-50
  2. ^ Churchill, M., Berta, A. and Deméré, T. (2012), The systematics of right whales (Mysticeti: Balaenidae). Marine Mammal Science, 28: 497–521. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2011.00504.x
  3. ^ Marx, F. G. (2010). "The More the Merrier? A Large Cladistic Analysis of Mysticetes, and Comments on the Transition from Teeth to Baleen". Journal of Mammalian Evolution. 18 (2): 77–100. doi:10.1007/s10914-010-9148-4.
  4. ^ a b c Paleobiology Database
  5. ^ ncstateparks (2012-08-29). "Prehistoric Whale Gets a Home at Lake Waccamaw State Park". North Carolina State Parks. Retrieved 2016-05-31.
  6. ^ altondooley (2012-08-26). "Lake Waccamaw exhibit". Updates from the Paleontology Lab. Retrieved 2016-05-31.
  7. ^ "Lake Waccamaw State Park to Dedicate Exhibit of Rare Whale Fossil | NC State Parks". Retrieved 2016-05-31.
  8. ^ P. J. Van Beneden. 1872. Les Baleines fossiles d'Anvers. Bulletins de L'Academie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-arts 34:6-23
  9. ^ L. Trevisan. 1942. Una nuova specie de Balaenula pliocenica. Palaeontogrphia Italica 40:1-13
  10. ^ M. Oishi and Y. Hasegawa. 1995. A list of fossil cetaceans in Japan. The Island Arc 3:493-505