JANUARY 2011: My Surface Interval named one of the best scuba diving blogs

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Missing link found for scuba divers' friend the seal

Scuba diving with seals has to be among the best marine life interactions we could hope for.
On a trip to the Farne Islands, off the east coast of England, last year we had some amazing moments in their playground as the inquisitive mammals nipped, nibbled, scrutinized and played with us, zipping around like undersea missiles and then displaying breathtaking underwater acrobatics.

Now a scientist's exciting discovery in Canada's High Arctic has yielded the 24 to 20 million-year-old fossil skeleton of a previously unknown mammal, named Puijila darwini, providing a glimpse into the origins of the species.

The Canadian Museum of Nature said the breakthrough sheds new light on the early evolution of pinnipeds (the group that includes seals, sea lions and walruses).

Dr Natalia Rybczynski said: "The land-to-sea transition in pinnipeds has been difficult to study because the fossil evidence has been weak and contentious.
"Puijila is important because it provides a first glimpse into the earliest stages of this important evolutionary transition."

The fossil was found in the summer of 2007 during a fieldwork expedition on Devon Island, Nunavut, in a meteor impact crater.

The new animal has a body resembling that of an otter, but a skull that is more closely related to seals and backs up the theory of evolution. Charles Darwin forecast the transition from land to sea via fresh water in his seminal work On the Origin of Species, published 150 years ago this year.

A "walking seal", Puijila had legs like a terrestrial mammal, but the feet were webbed and adapted for swimming. A website has been set up detailing the discovery and the importance of the breakthrough.


Ray Tango said...

Great pic of the seal Mark - is that one of yours?

Absolutmark said...

Hi Ray, apologies for not replying sooner it's been a busy week working and diving. Thanks for the kind comment about the pic. It is one one mine and features buddy Jono trying to snap a seal in the Farnes last June. It needed a bit of work in photoshop to remove some backscatter and the seal's head is a tad over-exposed but I still like it. If you've not done the Farnes yet it is well worth it. I'll blog about it later this month.