Central America’s Oldest Marine Mammal Unearthed – A 20 Million Year Old Tusked Sea Cow

Source: Science Daily/Florida Museum of Natural History

Photo: USGS/Wikimedia Commons 

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Steven Manchester didn’t set out to discover Central America’s oldest known marine mammal. He was hoping to find fossil plants.

Manchester, curator of paleobotany at the Florida Museum of Natural History, had left a group of vertebrate paleontologists uphill of the Panama Canal to do his own prospecting, clambering down onto the narrow, exposed shoreline to look for fossil leaves, petrified wood and mineralized fruits and nuts.

It was a dangerous place to be: The rolling wake from passing ships could sweep a person off shore and into the canal. Manchester noticed that people were occasionally shouting at him through megaphones as they cruised past, but not understanding Spanish, he continued to comb the shore when he spotted bone.

“He quickly walked us over to where he’d found a skeleton sticking out of the rock exposure,” said Aaron Wood, then a museum postdoctoral researcher leading fieldwork in Panama. “There were two or three vertebrae, orange-ish in color, dipping into the black rock on the side of the canal and a couple of ribs around them. We guessed that there would be more under the rock.”

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Photo: USGS/Wikimedia Commons

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