New Species of Prehistoric Dolphin Slurped Up Its Prey

By Heather Brady

PUBLISHED AUGUST 23, 2017

The discovery was made in Argentina, and in a forthcoming documentary, naturalist Sir David Attenborough will tell the story of what led experts to make the amazing find.

COURTESY ROBERT BOESSENECKER

A skull fossil found in South Carolina has revealed a new ancient dolphin species that slurped its food instead of chewing on it.The fossilized species had a short snout and was toothless, according to a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and the fossil shows holes in the creature’s bones that could indicate enlarged lips or whiskers. Instead of catching prey by tearing and grasping it with their teeth before swallowing the pieces whole—the way modern dolphins typically prefer to eat—this ancient creature sucked up prey from the sea floor in a method known as suction feeding.Scientists think the dolphin (named Inermorostrum xenops) may be the earliest toothless offshoot from the toothed whale suborder Odontoceti, ultimately leading to many different kinds of modern feeding behavior among the group.This evolutionary divergence happened within the Oligocene Epoch, one of the most important periods of whale evolution, during the Paleogene Period. The fossil is about 30 million years old, dating to a time when snout shapes and tooth presence were becoming diverse among the toothed whale suborder.

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