Dataset for: Evolution of Cranial Telescoping in Echolocating Whales (Cetacea: Odontoceti)

Oodontocete (echolocating whale) skulls exhibit extreme posterior displacement and overlapping of facial bones, here referred to as retrograde cranial telescoping. To examine retrograde cranial telescoping across 40 million years of whale evolution, we collected 3D scans of whale skulls spanning odontocete evolution. We used a sliding semilandmark morphometric approach with Procrustes superimposition and PCA to capture and describe the morphological variation present in the facial region, followed by Ancestral Character State Reconstruction (ACSR) and evolutionary model fitting on significant components to determine how retrograde cranial telescoping evolved. The first PC score explains the majority of variation associated with telescoping and reflects the posterior migration of the external nares and premaxilla alongside expansion of the maxilla and frontal. The earliest diverging fossil odontocetes were found to exhibit a lesser degree of cranial telescoping than later diverging but contemporary whale taxa. Major shifts in PC scores and centroid size are identified at the base of Odontoceti, and early burst and punctuated equilibrium models best fit the evolution of retrograde telescoping. This indicates that the Oligocene was a period of unusually high diversity and evolution in whale skull morphology, with little subsequent evolution in telescoping.