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Fossils of giant seabird found in Peru

THE unusually intact fossilized skull of a giant, bony-toothed seabird that lived up to 10 million years ago was found on Peru's arid southern coast, researchers said yesterday.

The fossil is the best-preserved cranium of a pelagornithid, a family of large seabirds believed to have gone extinct about 3 million years ago, said Rodolfo Salas, head of vertebrate paleontology at Peru's National History Museum.

The museum said the birds had wingspans of up to 6 meters and may have used the toothlike projections on their beaks to prey on slippery fish and squid. But studying members of the Pelagornithidae family has been difficult because their extremely thin bones - while helpful for keeping the avian giants aloft - tended not to survive as fossils.

The cranium discovered in Peru is 40 centimeters long and is believed to be 8 to 10 million years old.

"Rarely are any bones of these gigantic, marine birds found uncrushed, and to find an uncrushed skull of this size is significant," said Ken Campbell, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

With fossils discovered in North America, North Africa and Antarctica, the birds were ubiquitous only a few million years before humans evolved.


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