News Article | November 30, 2016
Monash University scientists have played a key role in discovering the origin of filter feeding in baleen whales -- the largest animal known to have ever existed. The discovery is detailed in a paper co-written with international researchers and palaeontologists from Museum Victoria. 'Alfred' the 25- million-year-old fossilised whale skull was unveiled at the Museum today. "Alfred shows how ancient baleen whales made the evolutionary switch from biting prey with teeth to filtering using baleen," said Monash Science Senior Research Fellow, Dr Alistair Evans, one of the authors of the paper. "They first became suction feeders. Feeding in this way resulted in reduced need for teeth, so over time their teeth were lost before baleen appeared." There has been a lot of mystery around how and when baleen first formed. "But we now have long-sought evidence of how whales evolved from having teeth to hair-like baleen - triggering the rise of the biggest beasts on the planet," said Dr Evans. Nick-named 'Alfred', the fossil skull is from an extinct group of whales called aetiocetids, which despite having teeth were an early branch of the baleen whale family tree. Alfred's teeth show exceptionally rare evidence of feeding behaviour suggesting an entirely new evolutionary scenario - before losing teeth and evolving baleen, these whales used suction to catch prey. Today's baleen whales -- such as the Blue and Humpback -- don't have teeth. Instead, they have evolved the hair-like structure called baleen that allows them to filter huge amounts of tiny plankton, like krill, from seawater. "Filter-feeding is the key to the baleen whales' evolutionary success," said Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, Museums Victoria. "But what has really eluded scientists since Charles Darwin is exactly how whales made the complex evolutionary change from biting prey with teeth to filtering plankton using baleen." This unusual type of tooth wear is only seen in a few living marine mammals (such as walrus) that use a back-and-forth movement of their tongue to suck in prey, and incidentally rough material like sand. Alfred shows how ancient baleen whales made the evolutionary switch from biting prey with teeth to filtering using baleen: they first became suction feeders. Feeding in this way resulted in reduced need for teeth, so over time their teeth were lost before baleen appeared. The research team is now uncovering the rest of Alfred's skeleton, as well as other fossils from Australia that provide exciting insights on how baleen whales began. The research was supported by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Global Postdoctoral fellowship to Felix Marx, an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to Alistair Evans, an Australian Research Council Linkage Project to Alistair Evans and Erich Fitzgerald and an Australian Postgraduate Award to Travis Park. 'Alfred' was collected and generously donated to Museums Victoria by J. and G. Goedert, S. Benham and D. Reed. The research is published in Museums Victoria's peer-reviewed scientific journal Memoirs of Museums Victoria and available via the link https:/
News Article | November 21, 2016
By charting the slopes and crags on animals' teeth as if they were mountain ranges, scientists at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History have created a powerful new way to learn about the diets of extinct animals from the fossil record. Understanding the diets of animals that lived long ago can tell researchers about the environments they lived in and help them piece together a picture of how the planet has changed over deep time. The new quantitative approach to analyzing dentition, reported Nov. 21 in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, will also give researchers a clearer picture of how animals evolve in response to changes in their environment. "The new method gives researchers a way to measure changes that arose as animals adapted to environments altered by mass extinctions or major climate shifts," said Smithsonian paleontologist Sílvia Pineda-Munoz, who led the technique's development. "By using shape algorithms to examine teeth before and after these perturbations, we can understand the morphological adaptations that happen when there is an [environmental] change. That in turn can help researchers and conservationists predict and plan for such events in the future. It is another tool we can use to understand how present-day communities are going to be affected if something like that happens now." Pineda-Munoz is a postdoctoral fellow in the Natural History Museum's Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems Program, which brings together researchers from different disciplines to investigate how terrestrial ecosystems are structured and how they have changed over geologic time. She developed the new method of determining an animal's diet in collaboration with colleagues at Arizona State University, Macquarie University, Monash University and the Museum Victoria in Melbourne. Paleobiologists have long compared the shapes of fossil teeth to those of existing animals to make inferences about what prehistoric species ate millions of years ago. The new method builds on this approach but is more informative and precise, computationally comparing the surfaces of an animal's teeth with those of more than 130 present-day mammals. The technique relies on a three-dimensional scan of a set of teeth, which generates a digital model resembling a topographic map of the Earth's surface. GIS (geographic information system) technology is used to analyze the map, mathematically describing several key features that influence how teeth process food. For example, the program measures how often the slope of tooth surfaces change--an indicator of complexity. Diets made up of foods that require a lot of mechanical processing before they are digested, like tough vegetation, are associated with more complex dentition, Pineda-Munoz explains. While she was a graduate student at Macquarie University, Pineda-Munoz mapped the teeth of 134 contemporary mammals, including representatives from each of eight different dietary categories. "Those categories give detailed information about an animal's primary food source, including plants, meat, fruits, grains, insects, fungus or tree saps, with an additional 'generalist' diet category," Pineda-Munoz said. Pineda-Munoz and her colleagues created a database recording six measurable features of tooth topology for the top and bottom sets of teeth from present-day mammals. Variations in those features reflected differences in the animals' diets. For example, pandas, whose teeth must crush tough leaves, have the most complex teeth, whereas hyenas' scissor-like teeth are efficient for tearing meat. To determine what types of food extinct animals were best equipped to eat, researchers can scan teeth from the fossil record and mathematically compare how their shapes relate to the teeth of animals with known diets--an approach similar to the algorithms websites use to predict what related content a user will enjoy based on past favorites. "Because the method precisely measures the shape of teeth, it will be valuable in assessing how animals' teeth have changed over the course of evolution," Pineda-Munoz said. "It's a method that looks at evolutionary change. It tells you not just what the animal was eating at this point in time, but what the animal was adapted to eating."
News Article | November 30, 2016
Living whales feed by filtering vast numbers of small fish and krill directly from seawater. This is a rather clever strategy that allows them to cut out predatory middle men and feast directly on the abundance at the bottom of the food chain. Modern whales are toothless and so capture their prey using their hallmark adaptation: baleen, a series of horny filtering combs that line the upper jaw. Baleen is the key feature that allowed whales to grow big. From the time baleen first appeared, most whales grew to body lengths of four to eight metres and, ultimately, became the ocean giants we know today. How and why baleen evolved is one of the greatest mysteries of marine mammal evolution, with even Charles Darwin himself speculating upon its beginnings in his On the Origin of Species. Like all mammals, whales originally had teeth, which they used to capture and cut up large prey. Previously, it had been thought that baleen evolved alongside teeth in a transitional group of fossil whales known as aetiocetids. But this idea presents a major problem. How could hard, slicing teeth and comparatively soft baleen occupy the same space in the jaw, and yet not get in each other's way? Why did the teeth not damage the baleen every time an early whale closed its mouth? A 25 million year old fossil whale seems to provide the answer, according to research published in the Memoirs of Museum Victoria this week by a team of palaeontologists at Museums Victoria and Monash University (including Erich Fitzgerald, Alistair Evans, Tim Ziegler and ourselves). The new specimen has not yet been scientifically named, and so for now we simply called him Alfred. Alfred is an aetiocetid and thus lived during the pivotal time when baleen is thought to have first appeared. But, unlike other aetiocetids, Alfred preserves something incredibly rare: direct, clear evidence of behaviour. The inner surfaces of Alfred's teeth are carved out and bear numerous polished horizontal scratches. These marks could only have been made by food and abrasive particles, such as sediment, rushing past the teeth and slowly grinding them down from the inside. Crucially, the degree of abrasion is so pronounced that the teeth could not have been shielded by adjacent baleen. Contrary to what had been thought, it seems that baleen simply had not yet evolved in aetiocetids. The horizontal orientation of the scratches suggests that prey was not captured by biting with the teeth, as in the ancestors of whales, but rather sucked into the mouth via a sudden retraction of the tongue. Suction feeding is common among living marine mammals, including seals, dolphins and toothed whales, who use it either to capture prey or to prevent it from floating away while they swallow. But, so far, suction had rarely been directly implicated in whale evolution. Suction profoundly affected the way whales fed. Living suction feeders, such as sperm whales, beaked whales and the narwhal, no longer use their teeth to capture prey, and generally have either reduced them or even lost them altogether. We think that something similar happened in early whales, along the lineage that gave rise to the living species. At the same time, suction freed whales from the need to grasp individual fish and allowed them to target smaller prey. In turn, this meant that for the first time whales were able to capture more than one prey item at once. This was the beginning of modern whale bulk feeding. But there was one last problem that whales had to solve: how best to get rid of the water sucked in along with the prey? Swallowing all of it is obviously unfeasible, so an efficient way of expelling water, but not prey, from the mouth had to be found. An elaboration of the (by now largely toothless) gums into hair-like baleen provided the answer. In the whales that followed Alfred and other aetiocetids, baleen evolved directly from the gums and voilà, modern whales were born. By this stage, Alfred and his fellow aetiocetids were no longer part of the grand story of whale evolution. Their lineage had been reduced to a mere sideline, doomed to eventual extinction. Nevertheless, it is exceptional fossils like Alfred that provide real insights into what early whales were like, where they came from and where they would be going.
News Article | April 13, 2016
But millions of years before humans walked the earth, dolphins evolved their own complex sensory system and communication unique in the animal kingdom. Modern dolphins and other toothed whales (a group known as odontocetes) use complex sonar frequencies or "echolocation" to communicate with each other, navigate the deep seas, and to hunt their prey. They are the only marine mammals who have developed the ability to hear and analyse such high frequency sounds. But when did this incredible ability to sense their world evolve? The question has long been a major biological mystery– which a team of scientists from Monash University and Museum Victoria have now solved in a major paper published in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters. By borrowing a fossil ear bone of a xenorophid (one of the earliest odontocetes) from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, the team utilised cutting edge CT scanning technology to 'see inside' the 26 -million-year-old fossil in incredible detail. The results were nothing short of extraordinary. "When I first looked at the inner ear of the xenorophid, I was blown away by just how similar this incredibly old toothed whale was to a modern echolocating dolphin" explains Travis Park, PhD student at Monash University and Museum Victoria, and lead author of the new study. This means that even the most ancient ancestors of today's toothed whales and dolphins had ears tuned for hearing high frequency sound, and therefore the ability to echolocate like their living relatives. This is a major discovery that helps us to understand the timing of the appearance of echolocation, considered to be an essential ingredient in the evolutionary success of odontocetes - allowing them to spread to all corners of the globe and becoming the most diverse of all marine mammals in the process. But the team's findings highlight a tantalising question, as Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Museum Victoria's Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology and co-author of the study, explains. "Our paper shows even the earliest known fossil odontocetes have all the tools for echolocation seen in living dolphins. But they must have evolved from something that didn't quite have all the tricks of the odontocete trade. What were those animals like and how did they start down the path to sonic supersenses? The quest for the origins of this extraordinary group of creatures continues." Explore further: An ancient biosonar sheds new light on the evolution of echolocation in toothed whales More information: Travis Park et al. Ultrasonic hearing and echolocation in the earliest toothed whales, Biology Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0060
News Article | April 15, 2016
The ear bone fossil of an ancient toothed whale that lived 26 million years ago has revealed that its ability to echolocate is quite similar to the present day dolphins' sensory capabilities. By leveraging revolutionary CT scanning technology, an international team of researchers were able to examine the insides of a fossilized ear bone that belonged to a xenorophid whale, one of the earliest ancestors of modern toothed whales that existed around 26 million years ago. Examination of the ear revealed that the ancient whale had a 'cochlea' specialized for sensing high-frequency sound. "When I first looked at the inner ear of the xenorophid, I was blown away by just how similar this incredibly old toothed whale was to a modern echolocating dolphin," said Travis Park, a PhD student at Museum Victoria and Monash University in Australia and lead author of the new study. The fossil was particularly borrowed for investigation from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Echolocation refers to a unique ability that certain marine mammals possess which enables them to produce high-frequency sound waves. By listening to the echoes that bounce back from the sound waves reflecting off objects (animate or inanimate), they are able to garner a better understanding of their surroundings in the deep blue seas. This aids them in communicating with each other, navigating the waters, hunting for food and also helps them stay wary of dangerous predators around. The odontocetes species that includes dolphins, toothed whales, beaked whales, killer whales, sperm whales and porpoises, encompass the ability to echolocate. Dolphins are undoubtedly one of the most intelligent and social animals alive on earth today. The development of this extraordinary biosonar system played a pivotal role in the evolution of the odontocetes. It is this evolutionary advantage that presumably helped them diversify and spread bountifully across the oceans of the earth. Non-marine mammals such as the blind bats are also super-sonic like the dolphins, and possess the ability to echolocate and sense their way around the deep, dark caves. Precisely when this echolocation skill developed among these marine mammals has been a mystery for ages. The solution to this mystery has been addressed by the study, by asserting that the skill to echolocate dates back to millions of years ago and was present in ancient whales. However with the groundbreaking finding, scientists now wonder: what were the ancestors of ancient whales like? Did they possess this skill, too? "Our paper shows even the earliest known fossil odontocetes [toothed whales] have all the tools for echolocation seen in living dolphins. They must have evolved from something that didn't quite have all the tricks of the odontocete trade." said Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Museum Victoria's Senior Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology and co-author of the study. "What were those animals like and how did they start down the path to sonic supersenses? The quest for odontocete origins continues." added Fitzgerald. The finding of the research was published in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | April 18, 2016
According to new research led by Flinders University, reversible evolution is possible under certain conditions – even after many millions of years. A new paper, published in the journal Evolution, casts new light on the long-held idea that once a structure or organ is lost during the course of evolution, it cannot be recovered in descendant species. The Australian and UK team of scientists show that some of the largest kangaroos ever to evolve resurrected crests on their teeth that were present in their distant ancestors more than 20 million years earlier. Changes in climate, habitat and diet are the reason. As forests retreated towards the coastline over millions of years, kangaroos were forced to eat more grass, with their teeth needing to cut rather than chomp away at their food, the researchers say. As forests retreated, grasses and other abrasive plants became more abundant and kangaroos shifted their diets to exploit them, says Flinders School of Biological Sciences Ph.D. candidate Aidan Couzens who used a simple mathematical rule to show that re-evolving these features may not be so difficult as previously thought. "We show that small changes to a 'rule' that determines how teeth form in the embryo have allowed some kangaroos to partly turn back the clock on evolution," Aidan said. "Using these rules, we can start to predict the pathways evolution can take. "We found that contrary to Dollo's law in biology, features lost in evolution can re-evolve when evolution 'tinkers' with the way features are assembled in the embryo." Biologists have often discounted the potential for evolution to shift into reverse, dismissing such occurrences as convergent evolution, "where similar features evolve independently in organisms that are not closely related," explains co-author Flinders Associate Professor Gavin Prideaux. The researchers argue that "reanimating genetically mothballed features may be 'allowed' by evolution when it aligns with pressures that determine an animal's ecology". The re-emergence of these molar traits was driven by changes in climate, habitat and diet. Kangaroos and wallabies have been studied as barometers of historical climatic change in Australia, Associate Professor Prideaux said. "They have been around for at least 30 million years, and we are discovering more about how early forms were adapted to the abundant soft-leaved forest plants and how later macropods adapted to more arid conditions," he said. The latest research findings resulted from collaboration between scientists at Flinders University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, University of Kent in England, Monash University and Museum Victoria.
News Article | November 30, 2016
Baleen whales – humpback whales, blue whales, right whales, minke whales, and other whales that use filter feeding – include the largest animals ever known to live on Earth, and yet they dine on tiny organisms like zooplankton, krill, and small fish. To fuel such humongous bodies, the ocean giants scoop entire schools of fish into their mouths, filtering the water and other stuff that ends up in their mouths through bristly keratin structures called baleen. But their ancestors' mouths didn't always have such an efficient filtering system. Instead, they just had teeth. So what happened in evolution for those prey-grasping teeth to disappear and the baleen filter feeding system to take its place? There may have been an intermediate stage employing a different mode of feeding: suction, scientists propose in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Memoirs of Museum Victoria. This research could answer key questions to a major evolutionary transition along the lineage that ultimately yielded the biggest animals in the world. The evidence comes from a 25-million-year-old whale fossil nicknamed Alfred, who lived during a time when scientists think baleen whales were evolving from more shark-like raptorial feeding to filter feeding. And Alfred had teeth. It wasn't the presence of teeth that tantalized researchers, it was what was on the teeth. Fine scratches on the inside of the teeth looked familiar to some of the scientists, says study co-author Erich Fitzgerald, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Australia's Museums Victoria. "That kind of wear is only seen in a couple of living marine mammal species," Dr. Fitzgerald says in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "Those are species which use rapid retraction, backwards movement of the tongue and throat, to generate suction." The behavior is much like sucking a milkshake through a straw. Adult walruses use this same method to dislodge clams and other shellfish from the seabed, but the suction also picks up rough sediment, Fitzgerald explains. And over time, this repeated abrasion leaves scratches much like those seen on Alfred's teeth. Dental wear is a good way for paleontologists to determine an animal's behavior, Brian Beatty, an evolutionary biologist and anatomist at the New York Institute of Technology at Old Westbury who was not part of the research team, says. "Dental wear is a direct measure of the physical interaction of an animal with its environment," he tells the Monitor. It's a trace fossil, like dinosaur footprints, left behind by a behavior. This isn't the first model that has been proposed to describe the transition from teeth to baleen in Mysticeti, the scientific name for baleen whales. Other fossil evidence has suggested that the whales developed baleen while they still had teeth, instead using both biting and filter feeding until the teeth slowly disappeared over generations. But Fitzgerald says Alfred couldn't have had any baleen because the structures would have protected the ancient whale's teeth from the abrasive sediment and other scratchy schmutz. "I think this is going to be a seminal paper," Christopher Marshall, a comparative physiology and ecomorphology researcher at Texas A&M University at Galveston who was not part of the research team, tells the Monitor. "This provides a very plausible mechanism to get from biting to filter feeding." The idea that suction played an important role in the transition makes sense to Dr. Marshall, as his own research on seals also suggests suction precedes or is a part of the evolution of filter feeding behaviors. But Annalisa Berta, an evolutionary biologist at San Diego State University whose own research lab has also focused on this evolutionary transition, isn't convinced baleen and teeth didn't overlap. Although she agrees that suction probably played an important role in this transition, Dr. Berta says, "This is a lot to base on just one specimen." The presence of baleen in these transitional fossils has been inferred by researchers looking at small holes and channels on the roof of the mouth that may be signs of nerves and blood vessels connected to baleen structures, and not from actual preserved baleen itself. So, Dr. Beatty explains, they could be structures for a blood supply supporting other tissues, like gums, in the ancient whales instead. Or, Berta suggests, maybe baleen and the structures around it didn't always look the way it does today. Besides, she points out, the part of Alfred's palate that would display such holes and channels is missing in the fossil. "The challenge is that it's hard to test something as complex as feeding in the fossil record when we don't have direct evidence of the thing we need, which is baleen," Nicholas Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study, tells the Monitor. But he agrees that it is "not outside the boundaries of our expectations" that suction played an important role in the transition. Why? Because, Dr. Pyenson says, "suction feeding is one of those basic things that all mammals do because they have to nurse from mothers." Alfred was named by Fitzgerald's colleagues in the spirit of alliteration, he says, as he is an aetiocetid, or a member of the family of extinct toothed baleen whales that lived in the Oligocene (from about 34 million to 23 million years ago). Alfred was a moderately sized whale, measuring somewhere between 9 and 12 feet long, Fitzgerald says. The animal would have been about the size of a bottlenose dolphin. But its relatives that live today and rely on filter feeding to supply their bodies with nutrients are much larger. The most massive baleen whale is the blue whale, which can grow up to nearly 100 feet long. And that makes it the largest animal known ever to live on Earth or, as Fitzgerald says, "pending discovery of life elsewhere, technically the largest animals in the universe."
News Article | April 20, 2016
An international team of scientists has discovered a new species of wild rodent in a remote mountainous area of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia. The creature had eluded discovery for many years by mainly foraging for food among the roots of trees. Known as Gracilimus radix, this slender rat inhabited the thick forests at the slopes of Mount Gandang Dewata on Sulawesi Island. The region has long been considered a hotbed for various creatures. According to the researchers, the slender rat belonged to a new genus of its own since it had such a vastly different anatomy compared to other wild rodents. This placed the animal on a separate step in the taxonomic rankings just above a new species. "We discovered the new genus and species [while] doing mammal surveys in 2011 and 2012 on Mt Gandang Dewata," Kevin Rowe, a biologist from Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, said. "This marks the third new genus and fourth new species discovered there in the last four years." Rowe added that aside from the five rodents they came across with, there are still a number of other rat species waiting to be discovered in the wilderness of Sulawesi Island. He explained that identifying these creatures will not only provide researchers with new insight regarding the origin and evolution of native rodents in Australia, but it will also allow them to understand how animals are able to evolve in response to challenges presented to them by Nature. After conducting several genetic analyses, the research team found that the Gracilimus radix is closely related to the Sulawesi water rat (Waiomys mamasae), which was first discovered in 2014. The slender rat and the water rat belong to the same rodent group that can only be found on Sulawesi Island. Unlike most other wild rodents that are mostly carnivorous, the slender rat was revealed to be omnivorous. Rowe pointed out that despite being close relatives, the Gracilimus radix and the Waiomys mamasae are very much different from one another. The slender rat evolved to become more adept at living on land, while the Sulawesi water rat developed skills more suited for swimming and living in the water. The findings of the international study are featured in the Journal of Mammalogy. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | October 23, 2015
The Victorian government has warned people to be aware of snake activity after a spate of recent incidents in which dogs and cats have been bitten by the reptiles. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said snakes were emerging from winter hibernation and the recent exceptionally warm weather in Melbourne had increased interactions with people and pets. The Lort Smith animal hospital in Melbourne has reported treating 20 pets for snakebites in October – more than the centre usually deals with in an entire year. Tiger and brown snakes were responsible for most of the bites, the animal hospital said. Of the 20 dogs and cats bitten, 18 have survived – early detection of symptoms is crucial. “Common signs are vomiting, salivating and tremors, and that will go on to produce weakness and collapse,” said Dr Andrew Kapsis, head veterinarian at the hospital. “The earlier we start treatment and antivenom, there’s a good chance they will survive ... generally we need them within an hour of being bitten for the best prognosis.” Snakes become active in spring as they search for a mate and look for food such as mice and small reptiles after their winter hibernation. They can be found near waterways and coastlines, as evidenced by the tiger snakes recently spotted on St Kilda beach. “Being aware that snakes may be around and being informed about how to react to them is very important at this time of year,” said Samantha Moore, wildlife officer at Victoria’s Department of Environment. “Generally, if you are aware that snakes could be about and watch out as you walk about, you should be quite safe. “Although snakes should be treated with due caution by people and pet owners, they are much more interested in getting to safety themselves. Snakes sometimes bite pets, usually when the pets have disturbed the snake.” Moore said people should stay calm if they saw a snake, not attempt to capture one of the animals. She also recommended cutting lawns and tidying up around the house to reduce favoured shelter areas. With humans and reptiles out sunning themselves at the same time, people are more likely to interact with snakes as urbanisation extends into their habitats. “The more we encroach into their territory, the more this will happen,” said Dr Joanna Sumner, a herpetologist at Museum Victoria. “Snakes are looking for sunny spots, so places such as bike paths are ideal for them. On sunny days it’s best to be vigilant, walk around them and don’t freak out. They are unlikely to come after you. “If you get close they will look to disappear but if you surprise them or block off their escape route they can bite you. When dogs get bitten it’s because they’ve got too close.” Sumner said anyone bitten by a snake should wrap the wound, stay immobile and ask someone else to get them to hospital. “Try not to kill snakes – it’s illegal to do so and they are also an important part of the ecosystem,” she said. “There’s a balance there, you want kids to play safely in the yard, but snakes will be around and we will have those interactions.” If you or someone else is bitten, it’s best to call 000. If you need a snake catcher, the Victorian government has a helpline: 136 186.
News Article | April 23, 2016
A giant, fossilized tooth of an ancient killer whale was discovered in Beaumaris Bay. The huge tooth measuring 30 centimeters (12 inches) long, estimated to be about 5 million years old from the Pliocene epoch, is a proof that killer sperm whales once inhabited Australian seas. Murray Orr, a fossil enthusiast was walking along the beach of Beaumaris Bay - a known fossil site, when he stumbled upon the giant tooth. "After I found the tooth I just sat down and stared at it in disbelief," said Orr. "I knew this was an important find that needed to be shared with everyone." Dr. Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at Museum Victoria said the fossil would be used for scientific research and education. "If we only had today's sperm whales to go on, we could not predict that just five million years ago, there were giant predatory sperm whales with immense teeth that hunted other whales," said Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald said that the dental dimensions were bigger than that of a Tyrannosaurus rex. He also noted that the tooth looks incomplete - the tip of the crown and some base of the root are missing and could be from a whale which was not fully grown yet. Fitzgerald is intrigued as to how only one of the species of the whales continues to survive today. Through the fossil, he wants to know how the whales co-existed in the past, how the oceans supported them, and why they were lost. The fossil belonged to an extinct sperm whale species, which is believed to be related to Livyatan melvillei that lived during the Serravallian stage of the Miocene epoch, about 12 to 13 million years ago. Fitzgerald said the finding is valuable in preserving Australia's fossil heritage. Just recently Australian scientists completed years of fossil analysis, which revealed a new dinosaur species - Kunbarrasaurus. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.