Scientists find 'living fossil' thought extinct for 2 million years

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Jan 14, 2013, 2:52 PM EST

A lot of species have come and gone on this Earth over the last few million years, but it seems some of those weren't quite as gone as we thought. Scientists have just confirmed the existence of an elusive species of whale that, until now, was believed to have been extinct for 2 million years.

The pygmy right whale is believed to be descended from a group of whale species that apparently went extinct quite some time ago. The whales have only been spotted a few times, usually in open water, so it's been very hard for scientists to get a good idea of where they fit into the evolutionary chain, until recently.

In findings published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers detailed their belief that the pygmy right whale marks an important evolutionary link between ancient and modern whales.

"The living pygmy right whale is, if you like, a remnant, almost like a living fossil," said Felix Marx, a paleontologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. "It's the last survivor of quite an ancient lineage that until now no one thought was around."

The species only grows to an average about 21 feet long, small by modern whale standards, and has a unique arched snout that other species of still-living whales don't have. According to researchers, the species is part of an ancient group of whales known as cetotheres, which were prominent about 15 million years ago. We don't know much about how these ancient whales lived, but now that we know the pygmy right whale seems to be alive and well, researchers are hoping to change that.

So, yet another prehistoric beast thought long dead has been found in the ocean. It's a cool science story in its own right, but it also makes us ask once again if all those skeptics are wrong about the Loch Ness monster.

(Via Yahoo!)