The remains of a huge monk seal that lived three million years ago discovered in New Zealand

The remains of a huge monk seal that lived three million years ago discovered in New Zealand

Its discovery provides new clues about the evolution of these animals, since it is the oldest found on the entire planet

The remains of a huge monk seal that lived three million years ago discovered in New Zealand

Scientists at an Australian university have discovered, from fossils found in New Zealand , a hitherto unknown species of gigantic monk seal that lived three million years ago in the Southern Hemisphere. The species was about 2.5 meters long and its weight exceeded 200 kilograms, and its discovery provides new clues about the evolution of these marine animals, the oldest found on the entire planet.

The seal was christened Eomonachus belegaerensis (Belegaer's dawn monk seal), alluding to “the fictional sea west of Middle-earth in JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy, often associated with New Zealand.” As the main author of the study, James Rule, of the Australian Monash University, explained this Wednesday in the journal The Conversation.

The Eomonachus belegaerensis is the first species of monk seal, alive or extinct, that has been discovered in the Southern Hemisphere, according to the investigation of a group of seven skulls of Eomonachus that were found between 2009 and 2016 found on the coast of Taranaki, in the north island of New Zealand.

A NEW EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY

The scientists in charge of the research have highlighted that the discovery “rewrites the history of evolution” of the seals that live today, including monks, elephants and some species of Antarctic seals, according to the findings published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

The study indicates that the 'monachines', the seals that inhabit the Southern Hemisphere, could have crossed the equator, whose warm waters had always been believed to be a thermal barrier for the movements of marine mammals.

“If there is a southern origin for the 'monachines', this would mean that the group crossed Ecuador at least eight times throughout its evolutionary history,” the authors have specified, noting that they were later able to return to the northern zone.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Scientists have also recalled that 2.5 million years ago there was an extinction of the marine megafauna , probably due to the decrease in the water level as a result of the cooling of the planet, a phenomenon that affected prehistoric seals such as the Eomonachus.

According to Rule and his colleagues, that suggests that climate change endangers the last two monk seal species left on the planet, as rising sea levels could deprive them of the beaches they need for lounging and rising sea levels. water temperatures could disrupt their food webs.

Monk seals, considered the rarest marine animals on the planet, are in danger of extinction and it is estimated that there are fewer than 2,100 specimens today in the Mediterranean and in Hawaii, since those in the Caribbean were hunted in the 1950s until his disappearance.

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