A new species of Antarctic transport vehicles (TAVs) has been discovered on the South African coast and could help scientists understand how the ancient creatures migrated across the continent.
The transport vehicles were found at a site called KwaZulu-Natal, a region that has historically been home to a number of different species of animals, including penguins, seals, dolphins and whales.
“I think that’s really exciting because this new discovery is one of the first time we have found a transport vehicle in Antarctica,” says conservation biologist Dr Chris Ebert from the University of Cape Town.
“This is not just another transport vehicle.
This is the oldest, and the largest, in Antarctica.”
It was named after the first known fossilised animal known to science, an ancient marine animal from the South Atlantic, but this new species has been nicknamed ‘Moo-kwan’ by researchers.
It has been named after a previously unknown species of marine mammal known as the kwaZulus, which was a large seal-like creature from the waters of the Cape Colony region in South Africa.
“It is really fascinating that we have identified a transport species, that is an unusual one to find in Antarctica, because of the climate and the extreme conditions that existed in the region,” Dr Ebert says.
“The new discovery comes after it was discovered that kwaTavs were living on land in the area.”
It is a unique animal, Dr Ebbetts says, because its fossils are very rare and its teeth are well preserved.
“They are very well preserved, and there’s a lot of DNA in its teeth,” he says.”[But] they’re really unusual in the fact that they’ve lived on land for so long.”
Dr Ebbett and his team of researchers used a robotic camera to survey the new transport vehicle for up to four months.
“We did a very thorough study, and we found it was an extremely well preserved specimen,” he adds.
“Its teeth are very hard, and I would say that they’re probably more like those of a seal or a penguin, but it’s still very soft, and they have no other teeth on their body.”
Dr S.K. Naidoo, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo, New York, who is not involved in the study, says it is exciting to be able to study transport animals like the kwAtsu.
“These animals are so rare in the wild because they are so large, and because of that they are very difficult to track,” he tells National Geographic.
“You really need a high-powered field camera, and so they’re not very easy to locate.”
The research is described in the journal PLoS ONE.
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