Evidence of new seal species in southern hemisphere rewrites evolutionary pathway: Australian study

SYDNEY, Nov. 11 (Xinhua) — The discovery of an extinct species of seal originated in the southern hemisphere has changed scientists’ belief about how the creatures evolved, research revealed Wednesday.

An international team of biologists, led by Australia’s Monash University, identified the ancient seal from fossil fragments, showing it lived in the waters around New Zealand some 3 million years ago.

The identification was based on seven preserved fossil specimens, including a complete skull, found by local fossil hunters on south Taranaki beaches in New Zealand between 2009 and 2016.

Scientists named the new species, Eomonachus belegaerensis, after the sea of Belegaer from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings book series, believing them to have been around 2.5 metres in length and weighing around 200-250kg.

Monash palaeontologist, James Rule said it was thought that all true seals originated in the northern hemisphere and traveled down.

“This new species of extinct monk seal is the first of its kind from the Southern Hemisphere. Its discovery really turns seal evolution on its head,” Rule said.

He said the new evidence suggested that other types of seals may have also evolved in the southern Pacific, and then crossed the equator.

Te Papa Museum of New Zealand curator of marine mammals and study collaborator Dr. Felix thanked the members of the public who made the fossil discoveries.

“New Zealand is incredibly rich in fossils, and so far we have barely scratched the surface. Who knows what else is out there?” said Marx.

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