Aquatic mammal fossils in Latin America – a review of records, advances and challenges in research in the last 30 years


  • Mariana Viglino Instituto Patagónico de Geología y Paleontología (IPGP), CCT CONICT-CENPAT, Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina
  • Ana M. Valenzuela-Toro Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, USA
  • Aldo Benites-Palomino Departamento de Paleontología de Vertebrados, Museo de Historia Natural, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Avenida Arenales 1256, Lima, Peru
  • Atzcalli Ehécatl Hernández-Cisneros Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR) - Instituto Politécnico Nacional, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
  • Carolina S. Gutstein Red Paleontológica U-Chile, Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile
  • Gabriel Aguirre-Fernández Palaeontological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Jorge Velez-Juarbe Department of Mammalogy, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Mario A. Cozzuol Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Minas Gerais, Brazil
  • Monica R. Buono Instituto Patagónico de Geología y Paleontología (IPGP), CCT CONICT-CENPAT, Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina
  • Carolina Loch University of Otago



Records of aquatic mammal fossils (e.g. cetaceans, pinnipeds, sirenians, mustelids, and desmostylians) from Latin America (Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, including Antartica) span since the mid-1800s. Aquatic mammal fossils received little attention from the scientific community, with most of the first studies conducted by Northern Hemisphere researchers. Over the last 30 years, paleontological research in Latin America has increased considerably, with descriptions of several new species and revisions of published original records. The Latin American fossil record of marine mammals spans from the Eocene to the Pleistocene, with formations and specimens of global significance. All three main groups of cetaceans are represented in the continent (Archaeoceti, Mysticeti, and Odontoceti). Pinnipedia are represented by the families Otariidae and Phocidae, with records starting in the Middle Miocene. Both living families of Sirenia (Trichechidae and Dugongidae) are recorded. While less common, but still relevant, records of desmostylians and mustelids are known from Oligocene and Miocene deposits. This review provides a summary of the aquatic mammals known to date, with a special focus on the advances and developments of the last 30 years, since Cozzuol’s (1996) review of the South American fossil record. An up-to-date complete list of species based on the literature and unpublished data is also provided. The study also provides future directions for paleontological research in Latin America, and discusses the challenges and opportunities in the field, including the emergence of a strong new generation of Latin American researchers, many of whom are women.