Ancient fossil of newly discovered dolphin species found in South Carolina river

Dolphin fossil, College of Charleston (WCIV).png

Researchers at the College of Charleston have a new addition to their ancient whale and dolphin exhibit, the skull of a very small dolphin found in the Wando River.

"I call it the cutest dolphin fossil," said Dr. Robert Boessenecker, a professor and paleontologist with the College of Charleston.

Boessenecker said the over 30 million-year-old fossil was found by commercial fossil hunters diving in the Wando River. He said it was a unique animal for several reasons.

“It would have only been about four feet long [at full size]. Most of the other dolphins would be in the 10 to 12 foot range, about the same length as a modern bottlenose dolphin," said Boessenecker.

It also had the trait of sucking up its prey to feed, making this tiny dolphin one of the earliest examples in the world of an animal having this evolutionary trait.

Paleontology professors at the College of Charleston say the Lowcountry is a hotbed for prehistoric whale and dolphin fossils.

"It has just the right age rocks and also just the right environments preserved in those rocks," said Dr. Phillip Manning, Director and Curator for the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History at the College of Charleston. "So really, we have one of the most important windows on the evolution of whales on the planet right here in Charleston."

Manning said it's surprisingly common for people to find fossils, sometimes unique ones, on their own property when digging their foundation or landscaping their yards.

Many of the fossils on display in the museum's whale room were found here in the Lowcountry. The museum is open and free every day except Wednesdays.

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