Ancient whales had large back legs and a hip-wiggling swimming style

September 12th, 2008 - 1:00 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic

Washington, September 12 (ANI): A new fossil study has indicated that ancient whales has large back legs, a tail like a dogs, and a hip-wiggling swimming style, which helps pinpoint the advent of new physical features in modern whales between 38 and 40 million years ago.

The new features are known as flukes, which are the two wide, flat triangular lobes on a whales back end and are made of skin and connective tissue, with bones in the middle.

Scientists have known whales evolved from semiaquatic, four-footed creatures with long, thin tails to todays fully aquatic mammals with fluked tails, no back legs, and flippers instead of front legs.

But, according to a report in National Geographic News, it was previously unknown when the tail flukes first arose in the whale family tree.

Whats interesting about this animal is that it had these back legs that it used to push itself through the water, said study author Mark D. Uhen, a paleontologist from the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

This animal didnt have flukes, but the ones just a little bit younger (geologically) did. So we can really narrow that time frame now, he added.

Amateurs found different parts of the newly described fossils over time in Coffeeville Landing, Alabama.

After the various fossil parts were brought to the University of Alabama in 2005, Uhen realized that all the pieces belonged to the same individual of the species Georgiacetus vogtlensis.

This is not a new species, Uhen said. Whats significant about it is that we learned more about a species that we already knew, he added.

After analyzing the fossils for almost three years, Uhen concluded the individual had a tail, but no fluke, and that Georgiacetus wiggled its hips and moved its entire trunk up and down through the water to move forwarda swim stroke whales no longer use.

According to Uhen, We knew some fossil whales had a tail fluke from slightly younger fossils. But we hadnt had decent tail vertebrae to tell where (in time) the whales had tails and where they didnt.

This one little vertebra tells us that Georgiacetus vogtlensis didnt have a tail fluke, he added.

According to Jonathan Geisler, of Georgia Southern University, the findings are a surprise, because previously evidence about the base of the tail in Georgiacetus suggested tail flukes.

I would have guessed that it did have flukes, he said. Of course that is the great aspect of paleontologynew fossils can lead to new understandings, he added. (ANI)

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