Nature November 11, 2017
A Sea Creature From Millions Of Years Ago Was Found In Alaska
Desmostylus is the name given to a giant, extinct mammal that researchers have designated from fossils in Alaska. This fascinating animal is the only known order of marine mammals to go completely extinct. They left behind these bones in a quarry in Unalaska and what we’ve learned from them reveals a bizarre and amazing creature.
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Unalaska is a small town on the Aleutain Island chain and is the site of the discovery. Four skeletal fossils of the creatures have been discovered in Unalaska since 1950, and one is baby. It appears the creatures lived in groups and only existed in the North Pacific. Unalaska may have been a safe place for these animals to breed.
Desmostylia (Ounalashkastylus tomidai) lived in the waters near the Aleutian Islands from 33 million ago to 10 million years ago. It seems to be primarily a marine mammal, although it could go ashore if necessary.
The animal apparently had the face of a walrus, swam like a polar bear, and was as big as a hippopotamus! The giant animal is thought to have been completely vegetarian.
It seems to have survived by sucking sea plants and algae off of the rocks and mud. It is theorized that the animal rooted out the plants with it's forward protruding teeth and sucked up the food like a vacuum. No other animal is known to have a similar structure with teeth that are not used for chewing and strong jaw and throat muscles for sucking in plants.
There is a lot of debate in the scientific community about what animals Desmostylus are related to, with some saying elephants, horses or manatees. No one really knows, but scientists will continue to study this prehistoric creature in Alaska and find out more.
More scientific information about the discovery here.
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