Cetaceans have always called attention to people, either for their spectacular lives, their intelligence or their imposing size. But, do you know which the origin of dolphins and whales is? Do you know how they have evolved? Here, you can discover the answers!
Cetaceans originated in the ancient Tethys ocean, 50 million years ago, from terrestrial mammals that were adapting to the aquatic environment. They have evolved so that they are the dominant group of marine mammals for their species and habitats diversity and their wide distribution in the planet.
FROM EARTH TO SEA: THE EVOLUTION OF FIRST CETACEANS
Archaeocetes are the group of primitive cetaceans that lived during the Eocene (34-55 million years ago, mya), which were developing the features to live in the aquatic environment. Among archaeocetes, we find the organism that originated the two nowadays groups of cetaceans, the toothed whales and the baleen whales. We may find 5 families in this group: the Pakicetidae, Protocetidae, Ambulocetidae, Remingtonocetidae and Basilosauridae.
The Pakicetidae lived 50 mya in India and Pakistan, which had an appearance similar to wolf. They presented the nostrils close to the forehead and the eyes in a dorsal position, like crocodiles. The main feature to be classified as cetaceans is the structure of ears because they are adapted to an underwater hearing. In addition, they have dense bones to walk under the water. Pakicetidae were mainly terrestrial or freshwater animals. The most known animal is Pakicetus.
The next archaeocetes were the Ambulocetidae, also from India and Pakistan, present in the middle-Eocene (41-50 mya). They were similar to crocodiles in some features, with short fins and a powerful body and tail. They had a big head, with the eyes in a dorsal and laterally position. Their lower limbs were adapted to swim and they swam by ventrally rippling the body, like the nowadays whales.
The Remingtonocetidae were found in India and Pakistan, about 43-46 mya. Despite the archaeocetes had big snouts, in this group were specially big. It is thought that their size was between Pakicetidae and Ambulocetidae. The nostrils were placed close to the forehead, they had small eyes and the inner ear were more adapted to underwater life.
The Protocetidae lived in the middle-Eocene and were found in India, Pakistan, Africa, Europe and North America. Probably, they lived in warm seas close to tropics. They had a long snout, big eyes and the position of nostrils allowed them to breathing without leaving the head of the water, like present cetaceans. There are so many genus, but the one that give the name to the group is Protocetus.
The last group are the Basilosauridae, which existed during the middle and last Eocene. Species could be between 4 and 18 m long. It’s a paraphyletic group, it is that all the descendents of the common ancestor are not included in the group. Their hind limbs were very reduced and their appearance were similar to the current cetaceans. The group includes, among other genera, Basilosaurus and Saghacetus .
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