Credit: Boersma and Pyenson/CC-BY 4.0

A fossilized dolphin skull in the Smithsonian collection has been identified as an entirely new species 65 years after it was dug out of the ground in Alaska.

Alexandra Boersma and Nicholas Pyenson of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC identified a 23-centimetre-long skull (pictured) as a new genus and species in a family called the Allodelphinidae. The extinct animal is closely related to today's South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica). The fossil dates from around 25 million years ago, a few million years after cetaceans diverged into toothed whales and filter-feeding baleen whales, and is one of the earliest examples found of the former group.

It is also the most northern specimen yet discovered of the Allodelphinidae, and the researchers have dubbed the animal Arktocara yakataga — the face of the north.

PeerJ 4, e2321 (2016)