A new species of whale-like creature was discovered. It lived over 40 million years ago and had four legs.
The fossil of an ancient, four-legged whale with hooves uncovered in Peru gives scientists new insights into the evolution of the aquatic mammals, research published Thursday suggests.
An international team of paleontologists made the discovery in a coastal desert in southern Peru in 2011 and have since named the ancient whale Peregocetus pacificus, meaning, “the traveling whale that reached the Pacific.”
“This is the first indisputable record of a quadrupedal whale skeleton for the whole Pacific Ocean, probably the oldest for the Americas, and the most complete outside India and Pakistan,” study author Olivier Lambert of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences said in a statement.
The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology, describes the 42.6-million-year-old animal as being able to live on both land and water.
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The ancient whale was roughly 13 feet long, and its hooves were located on the tips of its fingers and toes, the study says. The animal also likely had webbed appendages.
Researchers described an animal that likely moved in the water similar to an otter, based on its bone structure in tail vertebrae, the study shows.
“We think that it was feeding in the water, and that its underwater locomotion was easier than that on land,” Lambert told Reuters.
Cetaceans, the group of aquatic mammals including species of dolphins and whales, evolved some 50 million years ago from hoofed mammals with four legs from south Asia, the study says.
The animals slowly traveled from there toward northern Africa and eventually North America, but fossil evidence on when and how they reached the Americas remains incomplete, the study says.
With the discovery of the ancient whale along Peru’s west coast, the scientists say the animals likely reached South America by crossing the southern Atlantic from western Africa. The distance between the two continents was also shorter at that time in Earth’s history, further supporting that theory, the study says.
Once reaching South America, the whales then likely moved to North America, the scientists say.
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The team says it plans to continue digging in Peru for more fossils of ancient whales and dolphins to better understand their evolution.
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