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New whale from the Eocene of Pakistan and the origin of cetacean swimming


MODERN whales (order Cetacea) are marine mammals that evolved from a land-mammal ancestor, probably a cursorial Palaeocene–Eocene mesonychid1–3. Living whales are streamlined, lack external hind limbs, and all swim by dorsoventral oscillation of a heavily muscled tail4,5. A steamlined rigid body minimizes resistance, while thrust is provided by a lunate horizontal fluke attached to the tail at a narrow base or pedicle6. We describe here a new 46–47-million-year-old archaeocete intermediate between land mammals and later whales. It has short cervical vertebrae, a reduced femur, and the flexible sacrum, robust tail and high neural spines on lumbars and caudals required for dorsoventral oscillation of a heavily muscled tail. This is the oldest fossil whale described from deep-neritic shelf deposits, and it shows that tail swimming evolved early in the history of cetaceans.

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Gingerich, P., Raza, S., Arif, M. et al. New whale from the Eocene of Pakistan and the origin of cetacean swimming. Nature 368, 844–847 (1994).

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