Oldest true dolphin species gets a new name

The skull of a newly renamed Eodelphis kabatensis is helping scientists piece together how and where dolphins evolved.

Courtesy of Mizuki Murakami

A dolphin first described from a fossil skull discovered in the 1970s has gotten a new name but still retains the title of oldest true dolphin species identified to date. Now called Eodelphis kabatensis, the creature swam the seas 8.5 million to 13 million years ago, a few million years before ancestors of spinner dolphins and others in the Stenella genus evolved.

As a result, the older creature should not have been a part of the Stenella genus and needed a new name, researchers report May 6 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Giving E. kabatensis a new name can also reconcile the gap between molecular studies showing that true dolphins started to diversify 9 million to 12 million years ago and other fossil evidence dating the emergence of the animals to only 6 million years ago, the scientists say.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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