A fascinating – and honestly pretty surprising – video has gone viral which gives a brilliant visual representation of how whales have evolved over time.
I for one have always been interested in whales, finding myself shocked time and again when I twig how big blue whales actually are, or when I learn new facts about the intelligence of killer whales. But I could never have imagined what early whales actually looked like.
As bizarre as it may sound, whales once walked on land and looked more like mini hippopotamuses to my eyes than anything else.
As per the Natural History Museum, early, land-dwelling whales – known as Pakicetus – lived approximately 50 million years ago.
Said to have been around the size of a goat, Pakicetus lived beside lakes and riverbanks in the part of the world we now know as Pakistan and India, feeding on small animals and freshwater fish.
Although landbound, Pakicetus – recognised as one of the very first cetaceans – could apparently hear underwater. Eventually, these creatures headed out further into the water, adapting over the course of many years so as to survive in their new environment.
Check it out below:
Another early relative was the Ambulocetus, an ancestor measuring 11 to 12 feet in length which ‘lived in or near estuaries’ some 50 to 48 million years back.
Sharing various similarities to Pakicetus, the strong-legged Ambulocetus is said to have ‘spent time both in and out of water’. However, it differed in that it had large, flipper-like feet and a tail adapted for swimming.
As per the American Museum of Natural History:
On land it probably waddled and pulled its body with its forelimbs, a bit like sea lions do. In the water, Ambulocetus swam like a sea otter using its gigantic, probably webbed, hind feet.
Moving forward through the evolutionary journey takes us to the Dorudon, a five-metre long creature that lived some 40 to 33 million years ago.
A very good swimmer, the Dorudon is said to have had ‘proper flippers and tiny hind legs’ and lived its life entirely out in the water, bearing a far greater resemblance to modern whales.