The fossil of a previously unknown river dolphin species have been unearthed by Smithsonian scientists, The Washington Post reports.
Scientists were also unfamiliar with the genus of the species, which they have named Isthminia panamensis. All of the research’s findings can be read in the PeerJ journal. It is thought that the dolphin species lived six million years ago. The remarkable fossil was discovered by an intern researcher with the Smithsonian Institute on the coast of Piña, Panama.
WHAT SCIENTISTS ARE HOPING TO LEARN FROM THE FOSSIL
According to scientists, the ancient species also had much in common with modern river dolphins. All of the four modern species of river dolphins are going extinct or are completely extinct. However, as UPI pointed out, the new fossil indicates that there used to be myriad river dolphin species in many places throughout the world.
But despite similar features to the river dolphins, Isthminia panamensis lived in the ocean. For this reason, researchers think that studying the newly discovered species could shed some light on why most dolphins abandoned fresh water for salt water.
“While whales and dolphins long ago evolved from terrestrial ancestors to fully marine mammals, river dolphins represent a reverse movement by returning inland to freshwater ecosystems,” Aaron O’Dea, one of the study’s researchers, said in a Smithsonian Institute news release. “As such, fossil specimens may tell stories not just of the evolution [of] these aquatic animals, but also of the changing geographies and ecosystems of the past.”
THE SMITHSONIAN’S STUNNING 3-D DISPLAY OF THE FOSSIL
Though the fossil’s fragility prevented it from being casted and molded, the Smithsonian scientists worked with the organization’s Digitization Program Office to create another way of displaying it. A high-resolution 3-D image of the shoulder blade, skull and jaw of Isthminia panamensis can be viewed and on the Smithsonian X 3D website.
MUSEUMS DISPLAYING THE DISCOVERY
A 3-D print of the fossil is on display at the BioMuseo in Panama and the fossil itself is currently viewable at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.