When we think of whales, it’s unlikely that such features as four legs, hooved toes, and webbed feet come to mind.
However, a fossil discovered in Peru has given researchers new insights into the earliest known whales and could change our understanding about how whale species spread across the globe, according to a study published Thursday in peer-reviewed journal Current Biology.
The ancient whale dates backed to about 42.6 million years ago and was capable of living both on land and underwater. Roughly 13 feet long, the mammal had hooves on the tips of both its fingers and toes, and is assumed to have had webbed appendages–meaning it was adapted to both a terrestrial and aquatic lifestyle.
Travis Park, a postdoctoral fellow with the Natural History Museum in London, noted:
“This partial skeleton represents a creature that could swim very well using its strong tail and webbed hands and feet, yet could still walk around on land on its hooved fingers and toes.”
Based on the bone structure of its tail vertebrae, the researchers believe the ancient whale moved in the water like an otter, which also has webbed toes.
— Reuters (@Reuters) April 4, 2019
Study author Olivier Lambert of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Scientists commented:
“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.”
The study noted that cetaceans–the order of aquatic mammals that includes species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises–evolved around 50 million years ago from hoofed, four-legged mammals who lived in South Asia.
From there, they traveled toward northern Africa and eventually to North America, but gaps in fossil records make it difficult to recount exactly how and when they reached the hemisphere.
However, the latest discovery has convinced scientists that the species likely reached South America after crossing the southern Atlantic from western Africa. At that point in Earth’s history, the distance between the continents was far shorter, supporting the new theory.
Lambert told Reuters:
“We think that it was feeding in the water, and that its underwater locomotion was easier than that on land.”
“The evolution of whales is perhaps the best-documented example of macroevolution that we have, with the group going from small, dog-sized, hoofed mammals to the giants of the ocean we know and love today.
However, despite having a good fossil record of the different stages involved, there are still questions remaining as to the routes that early whales took when they first spread around the world.”
The fossil was discovered by an international team of paleontologists who located the ancient whale in 2011 in the coastal desert plains of southern Peru–a region long known for its rich deposits of ancient marine fossils. The whale has since been named Peregocetus pacificus, which means “the traveling whale that reached the Pacific.”
The team plans to continue digging in Peru for more fossils of ancient whales and dolphins in an area where many other whales dating back as far as 36.4 million years ago have been found.
Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years
Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region, when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.
Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.
The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.
Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.
It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.
“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”
Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.
Some fear that the return of the massive sea mammals is a sign of global warming.
“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.
“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”
Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.
“It is true that the data we have points to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.
Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.
“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”
In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.
Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.
A typical blue whale is 20-24 metres long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 metres and 170 tonnes have been found.