Young Palaeontologist Awarded For Seal Evolution Research

Our young colleague Leonard Dewaele won the Steven Cohen Award for Student Research.
13/12/2016
Young Palaeontologist Awarded For Seal Evolution Research
post by
Reinout Verbeke

Our collaborator Leonard Dewaele has received the Steven Cohen Award for Student Research. It is an acknowledgement for his work on seal evolution.

Leonard Dewaele is a doctoral student at the University of Ghent and a volunteer at our Institute. He received the Steven Cohen Award for Student Research in October, from the American Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology, for his study on the early evolution of seals. His research is done under supervision of our palaeontologist Olivier Lambert, who specializes in the evolution of marine mammals.

Heavy bones

Dewaele studies the internal bone structure of seal fossils. The internal bone structure of the different groups of vertebrates vary greatly: birds have bones that make them light as a feather, which enables them to fly. For vertebrates living in the water – now or in the past, think ichthyosaurs or plesiosaurs – the opposite is true: they have bones with a small medullary cavity, which makes their bones heavier. That way, they can ‘float’ in the water and save energy when diving. Dewaele studies the structure of several seal fossils from the North Sea basin and the Northern Atlantic Ocean. The study could give clues about how and when seals evolved from land to aquatic animals.

The Steven Cohen Award has only been given twice, but it already obtained a lot of recognition in the world of palaeontology. It was named after Steven Cohen, Broadway director, amateur palaeontologist and the biggest maecenas to the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology, one of the most important palaeontology associations. The price is awarded to students who innovate palaeontology, using modern tools.

Dewaele wants to use the price to take CT-scans and make thin sections of fossil seal bones. 

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