The Evolution of Whales

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The Evolution of Whales

The origin of modern day whales, a mystery that has puzzled paleontologists for years, may have just been solved with the discovery of an ankle bone. This discovery might sound simple and unimportant, but the bones of these ancient animals hold many unanswered questions and provide solid proof of origin and behavior. The relationship between whales and other animals has proven to be difficult because whales are warm-blooded, like humans, yet they live in the sea. The fact that they are warm-blooded suggests that they are related to some type of land animal. However, the questions of exactly which animal, and how whales evolved from land to water, have remained unanswered until now.

In 2000, Dr. Philip D. Gingerich, a paleontologist from the University of Michigan, and his associates discovered two primitive whale fossils in the Balochistan Province of Pakistan. By dating the limestone located in the Habib Rahi Formation of the Balochistan Province, Gingerich estimated these fossils to be about 47 million years old. According to author David Braun of National Geographic News, “The researchers have classified one, Rodhocetus balochistanensis, as a new species of an existing genus, and the other, Artiocetus clavis, as a new species and new genus” (Braun, 5). The discovery of these two fossils suggests that the closest living relative of these primitive whales could possibly be the modern day hippopotamus. This suggested relationship is based on similarities in the bone structure between the two animals.

Hippopotami belong to a group of animals called artiodactyls. This group of animals, which includes deer, camels, sheep, pigs, and cows, are “named for the even number of fingers and toes...

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...ould estimate where they spent most of their time. By the length of the other skeletal bones, the size and shape of the animals could be determined, which also shared insight to its behavior. The largest primitive whales could indeed walk on land, but only did so for short periods because their legs could not take so much weight for long amounts of time. These behaviors allow scientists and paleontologists to understand even more as to how these fascinating and mysterious animals went from ruling on land to taking over the sea.


Braun, David. Ancient Walking Whales Shed Light on Ancestry of Ocean Giants. National Geographic News, September 19, 2001. Retrieved online March 15, 2004.

Gingerich, P.D. et al., 2001. Origin of Whales from Early Artiodactyls: Hands and Feet of Eocent Protocetidae from Pakistan. Science, v. 293, p2239-2242.
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