June 7, 2011

Scientists Discover Extinct Sea Cow Fossil In Philippines

Italian scientists have discovered the bones of an extinct sea cow species that lived over 20 million years ago in a Philippines cave.

Limestone rock above the waters of an underground river on the island of Palawan revealed several ribs and spine parts of the aquatic mammal, says expedition head Leonardo Piccini, a geologist from the University of Florence.

The discovery of the extinct sea cow species was announced during a symposium at the Philippine presidential palace. Piccini says that it was a rare find in the region from the Miocene era, which is about 20 million years ago.

"It's the first remains of this kind of animal in the area, so it is important in reconstructing the habitat and the diffusions of this animal in the Miocene," he says.

Such fossil finds in the East have been limited to India, with some fragmented finds in Madagascar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Indonesian island of Java, reports AFP.

"The specimens (found) in the Palawan Island represent the first from the Philippines and the easternmost occurrence in the region," according to the expedition paper.

Research by Fedrico Panti and Paolo Forti, a member of the Palawan expedition, suggests that the fossil specimen belong to one of two extinct plant-eating sirenia, or sea cows. These extinct sirenia would have been about six feet long, they say.

Today, two sea cow species are still living: the dugong of the Indo-Pacific region and the manatees of the Atlantic basin.

The paper seeks to have the Philippine government protect the area of the find in the Puerto Princesa subterranean river, which is currently heavily marketed to tourists as a major vacation destination.

"The fossil is in the rock, in the cave," he explains to AFP. "We cannot remove it and we don't want to extract it. We would like to wait (for) when the technology will allow us to study the fossil without extracting it."


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