Colonisation of the ancient southern oceans by small-sized Phocidae: new evidence from Australia

James P. Rule, Justin W. Adams, Erich M.G. Fitzgerald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Most of the diversity of extant southern true seals (Phocidae: Monachinae) is present in the Southern Ocean, but a poor fossil record means that the origin of this fauna remains unknown. Australia represents a large gap in the record bordering the Southern Ocean that could possibly inform on the origins of the extant Antarctic monachines, with most known fossils remaining undescribed. Here we describe the oldest Australian fossil pinniped assemblage, from the Late Miocene to the Early Pliocene of Beaumaris. Two fossils are referrable to Pinnipedia, five (possibly six) to Phocidae and a humerus is referrable to Monachinae. The humerus is not referrable to any extant tribe, potentially representing an archaic monachine. The description of this assemblage is consistent with the Neogene pinniped fauna of Australia being exclusively monachine before the arrival of otariids (fur seals and sea lions). The Beaumaris humerus, along with other Neogene phocids from the Southern Ocean margins, were smaller than their extant Antarctic relatives, possibly driven by longer food chains with less energy efficiency between trophic levels. This suggests that small archaic phocids potentially used the Southern Ocean as a means of dispersal before the arrival of extant Antarctic monachines.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberzlaa075
Number of pages21
JournalZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Beaumaris
  • Monachinae
  • Neogene
  • phocids
  • Pinnipedia
  • Sandringham
  • Sandstone
  • seals

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