New Miocene Monachinae from the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay (Maryland, USA)

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The Family Phocidae includes four subfamilies (Phocinae, Monachinae, Cystophorinae, and Devinophocinae) consisting of mediumto large-sized mammals that possess distinctive adaptations to semi-aquatic life. In the Miocene of the Chesapeake Group, only two subfamilies of the Family Phocidae were identified: Phocinae and Monachinae. Leptophoca, a representative of the subfamily Phocinae, appears on the eastern shore of the North Atlantic around 16 million years ago. Recently, two new monachine species, the larger Terranectes magnus (n. gen., n. sp.) and the medium-sized T. parvus (n. sp.), were recorded in the Upper Miocene of the Chesapeake Group in the Eastover Formation (7.0–6.0 Ma) and St. Marys Formation (10.0-8.0 Ma). These two distinct subfamilies of seals indicate a well-marked divergence between phocines and monachines, much earlier than 18 million years ago, as previously suggested. The Eastover Formation was deposited in a shallow embayment that covered southern Maryland, the coastal plain of Virginia, and the northeastern corner of North Carolina. The geologically older St. Marys Formation represents a tide-influenced coastal environment, with low-salinity estuaries. There was a sharp temperature decrease in the Late Miocene, indicated by a shift to a cooler-water fish fauna during St. Marys time. The Eastover Formation reflects warmer waters with relatively strong currents, significant shoals, barriers, and varied depths. Fossil evidence of earlier seals suggests that phocids originated in the North Atlantic and otarioids in the North Pacific. True seals diverged from ancient Carnivora in the early Oligocene (or earlier) in the Paratethyan / Mediterranean Basins, spread widely during the Middle Miocene and crossed westward across the Atlantic Ocean, before dispersing in the eastern United States by the Early Pliocene.

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