Featured Image Credit: Robert Boessenecker
Fossil evidence has been found that uncovered an extinct species of dolphins. The fossils were discovered off the coast of South Carolina by a research team, led by a College of Charleston faculty member.
The species, named Inermorostrum xenops, is predicted to have lived around 28-30 million years ago. The skull was found by a diver in the Wando River, in Charleston, South Carolina. Researchers believe the dolphin was only about 4 feet long which is much smaller than today’s bottlenose dolphins that are about 7 to 12 feet long.
The dolphin was believed to have no teeth and said to have a “defenseless snout”. Robert W. Boessenecker, Ph.D., adjunct geology professor at College of Charleston, assumes the dolphin fed on fish, squid, and soft-bodied invertebrates. The suction-feeding dolphin had holes for arteries on the snout that indicated the presence of soft tissues and large lips. A team member, Jonathan Geisler, said the discovery is an important step in understanding cetacean evolution in South Carolina.
“We studied the evolution of snout length in cetaceans, and found that during the Oligocene (25-35 million years ago) and early Miocene epochs (20-25 million years ago), the echolocating whales rapidly evolved extremely short snouts and extremely long snouts, representing an adaptive radiation in feeding behavior and specializations,” says Boessenecker. “We also found that short snouts and long snouts have both evolved numerous times in different parts of the evolutionary tree — and that modern dolphin like the bottlenose dolphin, which has a snout twice as long as it is wide, represents the optimum length as it permits both fish catching and suction feeding.”
There have been a number of Oligocene whales from South Carolina. There are only a few other spots in the world in which these whales have been discovered such as, New Zealand, Japan, and Pacific Northwest.
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