Menu

Extinct River Dolphin Species Discovered

Overlooked for half a century, a skull in the Smithsonian collection points to a dolphin species that lived 25 million years ago, according to a study.

Aug 16, 2016
Alison F. Takemura

Arktocara yakataga skullSMITHSONIAN, JAMES DI LORETOOne of 40 million items in the Smithsonian’s paleobiology collection is a skull specimen that  belonged to an ancient, extinct species of subarctic dolphin, whose closest living relative swims in the tropics, according to a study published today (August 16) in Peer J.

More than 60 years ago, geologist Don Miller discovered the 9-inch skull in a 25-million-year-old rock in southeastern Alaska. He deposited the piece at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in 1951. For decades, its identity remained obscure. Only recently were a pair of Smithsonian paleontologists able to trace its evolutionary origins, by X-ray scanning the fossil and building a digital model, finding that it was a previously undescribed dolphin species.

The researchers called the new species Arktocara yakataga, an homage to its habitat—Arktocara stems from the Latin phrase for “the face of the north,”; yakataga is what the indigenous Tlingit people call the region where the fossil was found, according to a statement.

By comparing its anatomical features to other dolphins, the team discovered that A. yakataga’s closest living relative is the South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica)—an odd animal that swims sideways, can’t see, and navigates by echolation through murky water.

The A. yakataga skull, one of the oldest remains of a family within toothed whales called the Platanistoidea, indicates that the South Asian river dolphin is the last surviving member of a diverse lineage that once spanned the globe. Today this species teeters on the edge of extinction due to pollution, habitat destruction, and people’s use of fishing nets. Only a few thousand individuals of the species remain.

“It is representing evolutionary history that will wink out if we don’t preserve it,” study coauthor Alexandra Boersma of the Smithsonian told Gizmodo.

July 2019

On Target

Researchers strive to make individualized medicine a reality

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

DeNovoMAX - NRGene's new genomics tool to meet a major agbio need:
DeNovoMAX - NRGene's new genomics tool to meet a major agbio need:
NRGene has launched a new product that aims to empower breeding and maximize agricultural yield as part of the Denovo assembly product suite offered by the company.
Overcoming the Efficiency Challenge in Clinical NGS
Overcoming the Efficiency Challenge in Clinical NGS
Download this white paper to see how an ECS lab serving a network of more than 10,000 healthcare providers integrated QIAGEN Clinical Insight (QCI) Interpret to significantly reduce manual variant curation efforts and increase workflow efficiency by 80%!
Veravas Launches Product Portfolio to Mitigate Biotin Interference and Improve Diagnostic Assay Accuracy
Veravas Launches Product Portfolio to Mitigate Biotin Interference and Improve Diagnostic Assay Accuracy
Veravas, Inc., an emerging diagnostic company, launched a portfolio of products that can improve the accuracy of current diagnostic test results by helping laboratory professionals detect and manage biotin interference in patient samples with VeraTest Biotin and VeraPrep Biotin.
New Data on Circulating Tumor DNA as a Biomarker for Detecting Cancer Progression Presented at 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting
New Data on Circulating Tumor DNA as a Biomarker for Detecting Cancer Progression Presented at 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting
Scientists presented more than 30 abstracts featuring Bio-Rad’s Droplet Digital PCR (ddPCR) technology at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago, May 31–June 4.