Evolution of cetaceans facts for kids
- Their need to breathe air from the surface;
- The bones of their fins, which resemble the limbs of land mammals
- The vertical movement of their spines, characteristic more of a running mammal than of the horizontal movement of fish.
DNA sequence analysis
After many years when palaeontologists thought whales had evolved from mesonychids, DNA sequence analysis showed the closest relationship was with artiodactyls, the even-toed ungulates. A new clade was created to include Cetacea and their nearest relatives, the hippopotamus family. This clade is called the Cetartiodactyla.
- Further information: Archaeoceti
Hippo fossils are not found until the Miocene, but whale ancestors have been found from the Eocene. This leaves a gap of nearly 30 million years where no hippo ancestors are found. The most recent hypothesis is that hippos and whales shared a common semi-aquatic ancestor which branched off from other Artiodactyls around 60 million years ago (mya). This ancestral group probably split into two branches around 54 mya. One branch evolved into cetaceans, possibly beginning with the proto-whale Pakicetus from 52 mya. These early cetaceans gradually became adapted to life in the sea. They became the completely aquatic cetaceans.
About the size of a raccoon or domestic cat, this herbivorous creature shared some of the traits of whales. It also showed signs of adaptations to aquatic life, including a thick and heavy outer bone coating. This is similar to the bones of modern creatures such as the hippopotamus, and reduces buoyancy so that they can stay underwater. This suggests a similar survival strategy to the African mousedeer or water chevrotain which, when threatened by a bird of prey, dives into water and hides beneath the surface for up to four minutes.
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Evolution of cetaceans Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.