Forty million years ago, whales had legs and hips

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Forty million years ago, whales had legs and hips

September 15, 2008 - 15:20
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A new study of whale fossils has now shown that the early whales had large back legs, a tail like a dog's, and a hip-wiggling swimming style. Scientists have known whales evolved from semiaquatic, four-footed creatures with long, thin tails to today's fully aquatic mammals with fluked tails, no back legs, and flippers instead of front legs.

Not the Georgiacetus, but the Protocetus atavus, an early whale from the middle Eocene of Egypt.

It was previously unknown when the tail flukes first arose in the whale family tree. A new study of whale fossils has now shown that the early whales had large back legs, a tail like a dog's, and a hip-wiggling swimming style.

The discovery helps pinpoint the advent of "modern" whale flukes to between 38 and 40 million years ago, scientists say. "This animal didn't have flukes, but the ones just a little bit geologically younger did. So we can really narrow that time frame now," said study author Mark D. Uhen, a paleontologist from the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

"What's interesting about this animal is that it had these back legs that it used to push itself through the water," he added.

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