Fossils unearthed in a South Carolina drainage ditch are providing insight into the development of ultrasonic hearing in prehistoric whales, a trait closely linked to their uncanny ability to hunt and navigate using sound waves and echoes.

In research published in the journal Current Biology, scientists described fossils of a newly identified dolphin, Echovenator sandersi, that thrived in shallow, warm seas about 27 million years ago, with one of the best preserved ears of any ancient cetacean.

CT scans of the ear and comparisons with other whale species showed Echovenator's ear possessed many features found today in whales that can hear ultrasonic frequencies, above the range of human hearing.