Canadian Museum of Nature

Canadian Museum of Nature

May 11, 2009 08:01 ET

Media Advisory: Canadian Museum of Nature : Missing-link Carnivore From Canada's High Arctic Featured in New Extreme Mammals Exhibition in New York

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - May 11, 2009) - An exciting "missing-link" carnivore that recently made headlines around the world after publication in the journal Nature by Canadian scientist Dr. Natalia Rybczynski will be on view in New York City in the Extreme Mammals exhibition opening May 16 at the American Museum of Natural History. Rybczynski, a palaeontologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, will be in New York City on May 11 and 12 and is available for interviews. She will also be present at the media preview on May 12, beginning at 10:00 a.m.

Among the unique animals in this new exhibition will be a skeletal cast of Puijila darwini, which Rybczynski discovered in 2007. Previously unknown to science, Puijila is a scientific breakthrough in the understanding of the land-to-sea transition of pinnipeds (the group that today includes the walrus, seals, and sea lions)

This transitional form had legs and web-feet-a flipperless seal relative. It had a body resembling that of an otter but a skull more closely related to seals. It was found on Devon Island in Canada's High Arctic in a 24-to-20-million-year-old impact crater. The fossil is too fragile to travel, but the exhibition will boast a full reconstruction of this amazing animal.

"The land-to-sea transition of pinnipeds has been difficult to study because the fossil evidence has been weak and contentious," explains Rybczynski. "Puijila fits into the category of an extreme mammal because it provides a first glimpse into the earliest stages of this important evolutionary transition".

Puijila means a young sea mammal in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit people in Nunavut, Canada. The species name darwini pays homage to Charles Darwin who predicted this transitional land-to-sea animal in On the Origin of Species. This year marks the 150th anniversary of this seminal work.

Rybczynski co-authored the report with Dr. Mary Dawson, Curator Emeritus of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and Dr. Richard Tedford of the American Museum of Natural History.

Read more about the animal and the discovery at the Web site, nature.ca/newspecies.

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