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Posted on: April 13, 2017

ANCIENT RELATIVE OF THE SOUTH ASIAN RIVER DOLPHIN FOUND AT CALVERT CLIFFS

Figure 1

CALVERT MARINE MUSEUM

P.O. Box 97 - 14200 Solomons Island Road

Solomons, MD 20688

Traci Cimini - 410-326-2042 x62

ciminita@co.cal.md.us

CMM-PR-17-25

April 13, 2017

For Immediate Release

ANCIENT RELATIVE OF THE SOUTH ASIAN RIVER DOLPHIN

FOUND AT CALVERT CLIFFS

A rare dolphin fossil found along Calvert Cliffs in 1997 has been fully identified. A scientific paper documenting this find and authored by Stephen J. Godfrey at the Calvert Marine Museum, Lawrence G. Barnes of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and Olivier Lambert at the Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, was published online today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2017.1278607).

The nearly complete skull (Figure 1) was discovered by Mary Kidd along Calvert Cliffs in 16-17 million year old sediments of the early Miocene, and collected by David Bohaska and Kidd in 1997. It has been in collections at the United States National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) since that time and has recently been described and confirmed as an ancient relative of the South Asian river dolphin family, the Platanistidae. This archaic dolphin skull has been referred to the extinct species Araeodelphis natator; a scientific name with Greek origins that means “the thin swimming dolphin”; reference to its slender bony snout. With this more complete skull, we now know that the early platanistid Araeodelphis was able to echolocate, had relatively large fully functional eyes, lacked the facial crests associated with the highly specialized sonar system of the living South Asian river dolphin, and lived in the ocean.

The vast majority of dolphins are marine, but several species live exclusively in freshwater environments. The endangered South Asian river dolphin (aka the Ganges river dolphin), Platanista gangetica (Figure 2) is one of those kinds. It inhabits freshwater rivers in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Although nearly blind, these mammals navigate the turbid waters with a very specialized form of sonar. The South Asian river dolphin has been recognized as the National Aquatic Animal of India, and it has been named as the National Mammal of Pakistan.

For more information about this rare dolphin fossil, please call Dr. Stephen Godfrey at 410-326-2042, ext. 28 or email godfresj@co.cal.md.us.

Figure 1. Araeodelphis, (lower jaw not preserved) is the most archaic known member of the family (the Platanistidae) to which the South Asian river dolphin is also a member (background, skull shown without lower jaw). Scale bar is in centimeters. CMM Photo by S. Godfrey.

Figure 2. Bangladeshi fisherman with a South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica), Karnaphuli River, Bangladesh. © François Xavier Pelletier / WWF

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The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $9.00 for adults, $7.00 for seniors, military with valid I.D. and AAA members, and $4.00 for children ages 5 - 12; children under 5 and museum members are always admitted free. For more information about the museum, upcoming events, or membership, visit the website at www.calvertmarinemuseum.com or call 410-326-2042. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest.

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