New extinct monk seal species identified from fossils in New Zealand | World news


Fossils found in New Zealand led to the discovery of a previously unidentified extinct monk seal species, which biologists say is the biggest breakthrough in seal evolution in seven decades.

The animal – called Eomonachus belegaerensis – named after a sea in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and fundamentally changed scientists’ understanding of how seal species have evolved around the world.

Eomonachus belegaerensis it lived in the waters around New Zealand about three million years ago, was 2.5 meters long and weighed about 200-250 kg.

Monash University paleontologist James Rule, a graduate student in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, worked with a team of Trans Tasman scientists on his paper.

“This new extinct monk seal species is the first of its kind from the Southern Hemisphere. His discovery really reverses the evolution of seals, ”Rule said.

Monash paleontologist James Rule deals with monk seal fossils.

Monash paleontologist James Rule deals with monk seal fossils. Photograph: Monash / Provided

“Until now, we thought that all true seals originated in the Northern Hemisphere and then cross the equator only once or twice during their entire evolutionary history. Instead, many of them appear to have evolved in the South Pacific, and then crossed the equator up to eight times. “

The equator usually acts as a barrier for marine animals to cross, Rule said, as the waters are so warm, so the finding that seals have crossed numerous times in their evolutionary history is significant.

Previously it was thought that all true seals came from the North Atlantic, with some subsequently crossing the equator to live as far south as Antarctica.

Eomonaco shows that many ancient seals, including the ancestors of today’s Antarctic monks, elephants, and seals, actually evolved in the Southern Hemisphere.

Dr Felix Marx, curator of marine mammals at New Zealand’s Te Papa Museum, said the discovery was a triumph for citizen science, as the fossils the Monash team studied were collected by bathers in Taranaki between the years 2009. -2016.

“This new species was discovered thanks to a number of exceptionally well-preserved fossils, all found by members of the public,” Marx said.

“New Zealand is incredibly rich in fossils and we have barely scratched the surface so far.”

The rule says that ancient monk seals have now been discovered in New Zealand, which makes search possibilities across the South Pacific much more urgent.

According to Rule, traditionally the southern hemisphere is poorly studied compared to the northern hemisphere.

“I would like to see if there are monk seals to be found in Australia. Also, now that New Zealand has produced a monk seal, I want to look for more seals [in NZ] it would be completely unexpected. “


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