Friday, 19 April, 2019

Fossil of 4-Legged Whale Found in Peru

Enlarge Image This illustration shows what Peregocetus might have looked like.                  A. Gennari Enlarge Image This illustration shows what Peregocetus might have looked like. A. Gennari
Cary Marshall | 06 April, 2019, 10:26

Peregocetus shows that the first whales to reach the Americas still retained the ability to move on land.

As they spent longer in the water, their legs evolved into flippers - while their noses developed into the blow holes found in the top of whales' heads.

Its fossil, which was found in marine sediments along the coast of Peru in 2011, suggests that it had adapted to an amphibious lifestyle.

The location has piqued researchers' interest as the first whales are thought to have first evolved in South Asia around 50 million years ago.

'It is the most complete skeleton of a quadrupedal (non-pelagicete) cetacean outside Indo-Pakistan, ' he said.

It belonged to an entirely new genus and species of whales. It apparently could stay in the water for weeks at a time, but likely returned to land to rest and give birth. And the proportions of its fore and hind limbs, as well as the small hooves at the tips of the toes and fingers, all indicated that the ancient whale could still walk on land, the researchers report Thursday in the journal Current Biology. The team named the creature Peregocetus pacificus, which means "the traveling whale that reached the pacific". "I am excited to see if this team can find more early whales in Peru".

The newly discovered early whale Peregocetus, which lived about 43 million years ago, is pictured along the rocky shore of the southeastern Pacific in this undated artistic reconstruction obtained by Reuters on April 3, 2019.

'The moderately elongated snout bearing robust anterior teeth with markedly ornamented enamel and shearing molars suggests that it was capable of preying upon relatively large prey, ' Doctor Lambert said.

Scientists have known since Darwin's time that whales, dolphins and porpoises are descended from four-legged hoofed mammals.

But Peregocetus also likely had webbed feet to help it swim, Lambert said. The hind limbs eventually become mere vestiges. Then it might shift to undulating its body up and down from the tail to the hip.

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The discovery adds new insights into the geographical spread of ancient whales at this stage in their evolutionary history.

Seals and sea lions are closely related to dogs, while manatees share ancestry with elephants.

It only took a few hours of excavation for diggers to find the first traces of the whale in Peru's Pisco Basin.

The whales we know today look nothing like they did millions of years ago.

"This would therefore have been an animal that would have started to make growing use of its tail to swim, which differentiates it from older cetaceans in India and Pakistan". "At some point they learn to be better swimmers and learn how to cross big oceans". At the time, the distance between the continents was only about half as much as it is today, and currents running between them may have facilitated the crossing.

Indohyus, an unlikely furry ancestor of modern whales. Scientists believe the creature - which resembled an otter - may have been an early form of whale that had not yet fully transitioned to living in water.

"The tail is much more efficient for locomotion than a combination of tail and hind limbs", he said.

"Whales are this iconic example of evolution", Travis Park, an ancient whale researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, told the BBC.

"That's kind of exciting", said Pyenson, who was not involved in the study.

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