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JOURNAL ARTICLE

An Amphibious Whale from the Middle Eocene of Peru Reveals Early South Pacific Dispersal of Quadrupedal Cetaceans

Olivier Lambert, Giovanni Bianucci, Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, Claudio Di Celma, Etienne Steurbaut, Mario Urbina, Christian de Muizon
Current Biology: CB 2019 April 2
30955933
Cetaceans originated in south Asia more than 50 million years ago (mya), from a small quadrupedal artiodactyl ancestor [1-3]. Amphibious whales gradually dispersed westward along North Africa and arrived in North America before 41.2 mya [4]. However, fossil evidence on when, through which pathway, and under which locomotion abilities these early whales reached the New World is fragmentary and contentious [5-7]. Peregocetus pacificus gen. et sp. nov. is a new protocetid cetacean discovered in middle Eocene (42.6 mya) marine deposits of coastal Peru, which constitutes the first indisputable quadrupedal whale record from the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Hemisphere. Preserving the mandibles and most of the postcranial skeleton, this unique four-limbed whale bore caudal vertebrae with bifurcated and anteroposteriorly expanded transverse processes, like those of beavers and otters, suggesting a significant contribution of the tail during swimming. The fore- and hind-limb proportions roughly similar to geologically older quadrupedal whales from India and Pakistan, the pelvis being firmly attached to the sacrum, an insertion fossa for the round ligament on the femur, and the retention of small hooves with a flat anteroventral tip at fingers and toes indicate that Peregocetus was still capable of standing and even walking on land. This new record from the southeastern Pacific demonstrates that early quadrupedal whales crossed the South Atlantic and nearly attained a circum-equatorial distribution with a combination of terrestrial and aquatic locomotion abilities less than 10 million years after their origin and probably before a northward dispersal toward higher North American latitudes. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

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