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New Dolphin Species Hid in Museum for 55 Years

Meet Arktocara yakataga
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 16, 2016 4:40 PM CDT
New Dolphin Species Discovered—In a Museum
A new species of dolphin was discovered after researchers took a look at a piece of skull sitting in the Smithsonian's collection for 55 years.   (James Di Loreto/Smithsonian Institution)

(Newser) – The discoverers of a brand new dolphin species didn't even have to leave the office to make their find, UPI reports. Smithsonian curator Nicholas Pyenson and researcher Alexandra Boersma were presumably going about their business when—in Boersma's words—"this beautiful little skull from Alaska" jumped out at them, according to a press release. The 9-inch partial skull had been in the Smithsonian's collections since it was discovered in 1951, but it had never been properly studied. Pyenson and Boersma rectified that, making a shocking discovery: The skull belonged to a brand new genus and species of dolphin, which they dubbed Arktocara yakataga. They published their findings Tuesday in PeerJ.

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The long-extinct Arktocara yakataga lived 25 million years ago and is related to the highly endangered South Asian river dolphin. Gizmodo calls the South Asian river dolphin the "weirdest dolphin on Earth." It swims on its side, has a long beak, and can't see, instead using echolocation to find its way around. Boersma says it's "kind of mind-boggling" to find a relative of the South Asian river dolphin all the way up in Alaska. She and Pyenson plan on digging for more Arktocara yakataga fossils next year. They believe the new species could teach us more about the evolution of both dolphins and whales. (This is what a dolphin "sees.")

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