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Australodelphis mirus, a bizarre new toothless ziphiid-like fossil dolphin (Cetacea: Delphinidae) from the Pliocene of Vestfold Hills, East Antarctica

  • R. Ewan Fordyce (a1), Patrick G. Quilty (a2) and James Daniels (a1) (a3)

Australodelphis mirus (Delphinidae n. gen., n. sp) is a small extinct Early Pliocene dolphin known from five individuals from shallow-water strata of the Sørsdal Formation, Vestfold Hills, East Antarctica. Australodelphis mirus is the first higher vertebrate named from the Oligocene-Pleistocene interval on land in Antarctica, and is the first cetacean fossil from the polar margin of circum-Antarctic Southern Ocean that postdates the break-up of Gondwana. The dolphin is convergent in skull form with some living beaked whales (Mesoplodon spp.; Family Ziphiidae) in its long, narrow and toothless upper jaw and face, but skull suture patterns, basicranial sinuses, and ear-bones indicate close relationship with living long-beaked dolphins (Delphinidae). Australodelphis mirus perhaps was a suction-feeding squid-eater which occupied quiet near-shore shelf waters influenced by glaciers but probably lacking major sea-ice. Possible ecological equivalents of A. mirus (small ziphiids, long-beaked dolphins) do not occupy Antarctic waters today, perhaps excluded by cold conditions and/or sea-ice cover. Earlier Pliocene cetaceans worldwide reveal significant extinct and sometimes bizarre taxa, and extant families with ranges quite different from today, pointing to climate-related changes in cetacean ecology in the last 2–3 million years.

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Antarctic Science
  • ISSN: 0954-1020
  • EISSN: 1365-2079
  • URL: /core/journals/antarctic-science
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