Apr 19, 2019 | Updated: 11:14 AM EDT

Discovery Suggests Ancient Whales Had Legs

Apr 05, 2019 10:23 AM EDT

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A 43-million-year-old fossil has been discovered in Peru and its believed to be that of an ancient whale. However, this whale is far different from what you are imagining right now. In fact, paleontologists believe the marine mammal's four-meter-long body was adapted to swim and walk on land. With four limbs capable of carrying its weight and a powerful tail. Unfortunately, scientists did not find the last part of the tail section of this creature, but the first vertebra connecting this section of the bones was similar to what modern-day beavers and otters have. They have named it Peregocetus pacificus, meaning "the travelling whale that reached the Pacific".

Paleontologists have previously discovered skeletons of these early creatures in India and Pakistan. "This is the most complete specimen ever found for a four-legged whale outside of India and Pakistan," Dr. Olivier Lambert, a scientist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and co-author of the study, said. "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, some small ankle bones, and the last phalanges with marks of tiny hooves."

The specimen was found in marine sediments roughly one kilometer inland from Peru's Pacific coast, at Playa Media Luna-an international team of paleontologists from Peru, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium excavated the fossil. The location has piqued researchers' interest as the most ancient of whales are thought to have first evolved in South Asia around 50 million years ago. As their bodies became better suited to water, they migrated further out to North Africa and North America, where fossils have been found. The latest discovery suggests early whales managed to swim there from South America. They probably didn't become fully marine animals until about 12 million years after this creature roamed the Earth, scientists think.

"Whales are this iconic example of evolution," Travis Park, an ancient whale researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, said. "They went from small hoofed mammals to the blue whale we have today. It's so interesting to see how they conquered the oceans."

Scientists will continue to dig in this area in Peru. They hope to find bones that may be even older so that they can fill in more pieces of this puzzle about how the whale evolved over time. Hopefully, a skull and the tip of a tail can eventually be found, as they are significant to the research, and as of now, they are yet to be discovered.

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