Unique fossil finds make the news

Separate research papers detailing significant fossil finds of an ancient seabird and a long-extinct dolphin have garnered headlines today.

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Artist’s impression of Australornis lovei Source: Derek Onley

The Press reports on the discovery by an amateur fossil hunter of the seabird fossil Australornis lovei:

“The fossil would have formed in deep waters of a warm sea off the coast of Zealandia, the continental fragment that New Zealand sits on. It was found near a fossil of the world’s oldest penguin, Waimanu manneringi, estimated to be the same age.

“Australornis lovei was about the size of a pied shag, and had similarities to two species from the late Cretaceous (about 70 million years ago) from the Antarctic Peninsula.

“At the time, Antarctica and Australia were in the process of breaking apart from Gondwana, and the Antarctic Peninsula was much closer to New Zealand than it is today.”

Meanwhile, a fossil of an ancient dolphin species that inhabited New Zealand waters has been detailed in research by University of Otago scientists. 3 News reports:

“A study of the specimen has been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by UOO researchers Dr Gabriel Aguirre and Professor Ewan Fordyce.

“The team studied a skull, one jaw and other remains discovered in marine sedimentary rocks off Cape Farewell. Their study revealed the dolphin had simple conical teeth and a head wider than most common dolphins found today.

“‘When we compared Papahu with both modern and fossil dolphins we found that it belongs in a diverse and structurally variable group of ancient dolphins that evolved and spread worldwide 19 to 35 million years ago,’ Prof Fordyce says.”

Further coverage:

New Zealand Herald: Ancient dolphin relative discovered in New Zealand

Radio New Zealand: Ancient dolphin found in New Zealand

Stuff: Fossil discovery sheds light on unknown bird