The Evolution of Whales Essay

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The Evolution of Whales

The origin of modern day whales, a mystery that has puzzled paleontologists for years, may have just been solved with the discovery of an ankle bone. This discovery might sound simple and unimportant, but the bones of these ancient animals hold many unanswered questions and provide solid proof of origin and behavior. The relationship between whales and other animals has proven to be difficult because whales are warm-blooded, like humans, yet they live in the sea. The fact that they are warm-blooded suggests that they are related to some type of land animal. However, the questions of exactly which animal, and how whales evolved from land to water, have remained unanswered until now.

In 2000, Dr. Philip
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Ankle bones and tarsal [foot] bones are the most diagnostic elements of the artiodactyls (Gingerich et al., 2), meaning that these bones are the most telling bones when distinguishing what group of animals a fossil may have come from. The presence of these two types of bones together in Gingerich’s discovery suggests that this primitive whale indeed could have been related to the hippopotamus. The skeletons of these animals contain similar bones; therefore both are thought to be artiodactyls. In a recent article in Science, Kenneth D. Rose, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says, “While ankles from primitive ancient whales have been discovered before, these are the first that are well-preserved enough to provide clues about whale ancestry” (Braun, 3). Paleontologists strongly believe that the bones of this discovery are all from the same animal. According to Gingerich, “No other mammalian specimens were found in the vicinity; all (fossils) are similar in size, color, and preservation; and no parts are duplicated” (3). Since no other animals were found in this same location, there was no chance that the discovered bones could have mixed with another fossil.

The bones of Rodhocetus are very telling of its behavior. The second and fourth fingers (or “digits”) were short and wide; therefore it is thought that these were the digits

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