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Mol Biol Evol. 1994 Nov;11(6):939-48.

Phylogeny of all major groups of cetaceans based on DNA sequences from three mitochondrial genes.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Yale University.

Erratum in

  • Mol Biol Evol 1995 May;12(3):525.


Traditionally, living cetaceans (order Cetacea) are classified into two highly distinct suborders: the echolocating toothed whales, Odontoceti, and the filter-feeding baleen whales, Mysticeti. A molecular phylogeny based on 1,352 base pairs of two mitochondrial ribosomal gene segments and the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene for all major groups of cetaceans contradicts this long-accepted taxonomic subdivision. One group of toothed whales, the sperm whales, is more closely related to the morphologically highly divergent baleen whales than to other odontocetes. This finding suggests that the suborder Odontoceti constitutes an unnatural grouping and challenges the conventional scenario of a long, independent evolutionary history of odontocetes and mysticetes. The superfamily Delphinoidea (dolphins, porpoises, and white whales) appears to be monophyletic; the Amazon River dolphin, Inia geoffrensis, is its sister species. This river dolphin is genetically more divergent from the morphologically similar marine dolphins than the sperm whales are from the morphologically dissimilar baleen whales. The phylogenetic relationships among the three families of Delphinoidea remain uncertain, and we suggest that the two cladogenetic events that generated these three clades occurred within a very short period of time. Among the baleen whales, the bowhead is basal, and the gray whale is the sister species to the rorquals (family Balaenopteridae). The phylogenetic position of beaked whales (Ziphioidea) remains weakly supported by molecular data. Based on molecular clock assumptions, the mitochondrial-DNA data suggest a more recent origin of baleen whales (approximately 25 mya) than has been previously assumed (> 40 mya). This revised phylogeny has important implications for the rate and mode of evolution of morphological and physiological innovations in cetaceans.

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