An extinct porpoise has been discovered in San Diego, California.
While out monitoring the site of a new Chula Vista development San Diego Natural History Museum paleontologist Richard Cerutti noticed something was out monitoring the site of a new Chula Vista development when he spotted a pointed object that was poking out of the dirt. It was precariously close to a large bulldozer. Cerutti explained heavy equipment has to be watched to avoid accidents.
He explained: “We keep them from backing up. They sometimes hit fossils.” That was back in 1990. Had Cerutti not been keeping an eye on things, the skull would very likely have been buried if not accidentally destroyed.
Cerutti, however, knew immediately he’d discovered a special specimen. Upon closer examination it resembled a common dolphin skull. Still it had a pronounced underbite. The lower jaw extended outward similar to a probe. That particular feature is not common to any type of porpoise alive today.
The skull was placed on display as part of the museum’s “Fossil Mysteries” exhibit where it would remain a mystery for 20 years. This week, after two decades, researchers have finally determined that the skull in question once belonged to what is now an extinct porpoise that lived off the California coast approximately three million years ago when scientists state a great deal of San Diego County was still underwater.
The San Diego Natural History Museum’s curator of paleontology and one of the authors of the new study, Tom Deméré, said: “This is something new, something brand new. Not only new but bizarre. In the sense that this animal we found has a structure in the lower jaw that’s not represented in any living dolphin or porpoise.”
The research chose to name this extinct porpoise Semirostrum ceruttii after the paleontologist who discovered the skull. Cerutti was honored to have the new species named after him. He said: “I was really surprised. When you’re in this business, this is kind of the reward after years and years of finding fossils.”
(Image courtesy of Bobby Boessenecker)