Extinct Dolphin Had Tusks Fish Wise to Avoid
The waters off New Zealand 25 million years ago were home to early baleen whales, megatooth sharks and human-size penguins. Now researchers are adding a bizarre dolphin to the mix that may have used tusklike teeth to thrash prey into submission, Jack Tamisiea reports for The New York Times.
The dolphin’s nearly complete skull was collected in 1998, from a cliff side in Otago. The specimen ended up in the University of Otago Geology Museum’s collection. Two decades later, Amber Coste, who was completing her PhD in palaeontology, stumbled upon the strange skull.
“Mentally, I just couldn’t figure out what could possibly need teeth like that,” Coste said.
Coste and her colleagues hypothesise that Nihohae matakoi, whose unfused vertebrae probably allowed for a broad range of neck movement, hunted in a similar way to a sawfish, swinging its head to skewer or stun squid and other soft-bodied sea creatures. Then it would swallow the staggered prey whole, Tamisiea writes.
“You can just imagine these dolphins swimming up to a shoal of squid and wildly thrashing their heads back and forth,” Coste said.
Original article by Jack Tamisiea, The New York Times, June 13, 2023.
Illustration by Daniel Verhelst.