Journal of Morphology (2010)

DOI: 10.1002/jmor.10900


All extant members of Phocoenidae (porpoises) have been characterized as pedomorphic based on skeletal characters. To investigate the ontogenetic background for pedomorphosis and assess interspecific differences in ontogeny among phocoenids, samples of the six extant species were compared in terms of development of both epiphyseal and cranial suture fusion. Across all species, full maturity of the vertebral column was rare. Vertebral epiphyseal development did not progress so far in most Phocoena phocoena as in Phocoenoides dalli and Phocoena dioptrica. P. phocoena, Phocoena spinipinnis, Ph. dalli, and P. dioptrica, for which large series were available, were further compared in terms of ontogeny of cranial shape by three-dimensional geometric morphometrics. Ph. dalli and P. dioptrica generally showed further development of cranial sutures than the other species. Postnatal skull shape development was similar for all species studied; the majority of interspecific shape differences are present at parturition. Smaller species had a higher rate of shape development relative to growth in size than Ph. dalli and P. dioptrica, but they still showed less allometric development due to less postnatal growth. Interspecific shape differences indicate phylogenetic relationships similar to that proposed based on morphology or convergent evolution of the two pelagic species, Ph. dalli and P. dioptrica, under the scenarios suggested by recent molecular studies. A shape trend coinciding with habitat preference was detected; in species with pelagic preference the position and orientation of the foramen magnum aligned the skull with the vertebral column; the rostrum showed less ventral inclination, and the facial region was larger and more concave in lateral aspect.