Friday, 19 August 2016

New species of extinct river dolphin discovered in Smithsonian collection

Extinct prehistoric species is relative of endangered South Asian river dolphin, may offer clues for modern conservation scientists

Date: August 16, 2016
Source: Smithsonian

A fossil that has been in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History since it was discovered in 1951 is today helping scientists piece together the evolutionary history of whales and dolphins, including the origins of the endangered South Asian river dolphin.

According to Nicholas D. Pyenson, the museum's curator of fossil marine mammals, and Alexandra Boersma, a researcher in his lab, the fossil belonged to a dolphin that swam in subarctic marine waters around 25 million years ago. It represents a new genus and species, which Pyenson and Boersma have named Arktocara yakataga.

The researchers reported their findings Aug. 16 in the journal PeerJ. They have also produced a digital three-dimensional model of the fossil that can be explored at http://3d.si.edu/model/usnm214830.

The fossil, a partial skull about 9 inches long, was discovered in southeastern Alaska by Donald J. Miller, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey. It then spent decades in the Smithsonian's collection. With more than 40 million specimens in the museum's Department of Paleobiology, "We are always learning new things about the vast legacy built by our predecessors at the museum," Pyenson said. But earlier this year, he and Boersma were captivated by and focused their attention on what Boersma calls "this beautiful little skull from Alaska."



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