Tooth be told: Earless seals existed in ancient Australia


Picture: This is an picture of the earless seal’s tooth located in Victoria, Australia.
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Credit history: James Rule

A fossilised seal tooth located on a Victorian beach could hold the key to uncovering the history and geography of earless seals that graced Australia’s shores three million years back.

This prehistoric specimen is only the next earless seal fossil ever found out in Australia, and proves the country’s community fur seals and sea lions were being preceded by a group of sea mammals, recognized as monachines, now extended extinct in Australia.

The research also highlights the present potential risks of climate transform to Earth’s current wildlife, with falling sea ranges probably to have played a part in the extinction of these ancient seals.

The history of this rare specimen was revealed these days (Friday 3 April) in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by a staff of researchers from Monash University’s College of Organic Sciences and Office of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, and Museums Victoria, led by PhD prospect James Rule.

“This tooth, approximately three million years old, tells a tale similar to what happened in South Africa and South The us in the past. Earless monachine seals applied to dominate southern beaches and waters, and then out of the blue disappeared, with eared seals replacing them,” Mr Rule mentioned.

“Since seal fossils are rare globally, this discovery helps make a critical contribution to our understanding of this legendary group of sea mammals.”

An Australian citizen scientist and newbie fossil collector found out the tooth although strolling together the beach at Portland, western Victoria.

But it was not till he donated the fossil to Museums Victoria lots of years later on that it was located to have been a tooth from an extinct group of earless seals.

The study staff compared the tooth to other pinnipeds – a group that consists of earless seals, fur seals, sea lions and the walrus.

They located the tooth possessed properties of monachines and lose mild on how these seals lived and what they ate.

“This seal lived in shallow waters shut to the shore, probably looking fish and squid. As monachines can not use their limbs to walk on land, it would have required flat, sandy beaches when it arrived ashore to relaxation,” Mr Rule mentioned.

Researchers believe drastic improvements in the Earth’s climate essentially altered Australia’s ecosystem by doing away with the beaches applied by earless seals to relaxation.

“These improvements in the past have led to the extinction of Australia’s ancient earless seals,” Dr David Hocking, co-author and Investigation Fellow in Monash University’s College of Organic Sciences, mentioned.

“Our residing fur seals and sea lions will probably encounter similar troubles as the Earth carries on to heat, with melting polar ice major to climbing sea ranges.

“More than time, this might direct to the eventual decline of islands that these species presently count upon to relaxation and increase their younger.”


The research, titled ‘Pliocene monachine seal from Australia constrains timing of pinniped turnover in the Southern Hemisphere’, was authored by: James Rule and Dr David Hocking (Monash University), and Dr Erich Fitzgerald (Museums Victoria).

To download a duplicate of the paper, make sure you pay a visit to

To enjoy a clip of James Rule discussing his study, make sure you pay a visit to


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