It’s amazing to learn more about the origins of animals and how they evolved in time. Recently we had a chance to learn more about ancient whales. Whales are cetaceans, same as dolphins and porpoises, and they all have a common ancestor which is a mammal that had four legs.
The study was published in Current Biology. The new species was discovered in Peru and it helps scientists understand more about how whales evolved. At first, they resembled small deer and they even had hooves.
“As this is the first four-legged whale skeleton for South America and the whole Pacific Ocean, the discovery in itself was a major surprise. We were also surprised with the geological age of the find (42.6 million years ago) and with the preservation state [of] so many bones from most parts of the skeleton, even including a patella (kneecap), some small ankle bones, and the last phalanges with marks of tiny hooves,” wrote co-author Olivier Lambert from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.
Ancient whales were four-legged mammals
According to some scientists, the whales’ predecessors spent time on land to eat and give birth. However, they retreated into the water when enemies were after them. This means that they spent plenty of time in shallow water where ate invertebrates and aquatic plants, as well as fish and amphibians at a later point.
The oldest fossils are from species that lived 53m years ago and were discovered in Pakistan and the northern Indian Himalayas. The transition was a slow, gradual one. The recent discovery does offer plenty of answers, but it doesn’t explain everything.
“Based on the available evidence, and on the fact that the postcranial skeleton is poorly known in species from both Africa and North America, several questions remained debated: When did quadrupedal whales reach the New World? Which path did they take? And what [were their] locomotion abilities during that long travel?” concluded Lambert.