Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Old Whale: Maiacetus

This handsome creature is the newly-discovered maiacetus, a "transitional" whale species:

Gingerich’s team found the 47.5-million-year-old fossils in Pakistan in 2000 and 2004. They resemble other whales that Gingerich and other paleontologists have found from that same time, with small legs, powerful tails for swimming, and jaws and teeth adapted for catching fish. Like those other early whales, Maicetus had a distinctive “double-pulley” shaped ankle bone that is only found today in even-toed hoofed mammals. (DNA tests show that whales share a common ancestor with even-toed hoofed mammals, their closest living relatives being hippos.)

Gingerich speculated at the time that these early whales were living like seals, spending most of their life in water but still coming back to land to give birth. It was a hypothesis that might be tested should anyone ever find fossil clues to how these early whales gave birth. It turned out Gingerich was the one who found those clues.
Nothing brightens a dull Wednesday quite like news of a significant fossil find, and all the more if it should turn out to be an ancient whale, proto-whale, quasi-whale or what have you.

More maiacetus coverage:

Ed Yong
Brian Switek
Greg Laden

Update: First sentence corrected from, This handsome creature is a rendition of the newly-discovered ... The creature is not the rendition. Cf.

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