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Early whales gave birth on land, fossil find reveals
Date:2/3/2009

le and female Maiacetus is only moderate, hinting that the males didn't control territories or command harems of females.

The whales' big teeth, well-suited for catching and eating fish, suggest the animals made their livings in the sea, probably coming onto land only to rest, mate and give birth, said Gingerich, who is the Ermine Cowles Case Collegiate Professor of Paleontology and director of the U-M Museum of Paleontology. Like other primitive archaeocetes, Maiacetus had four legs modified for foot-powered swimming, and although these whales could support their weight on their flipper-like limbs, they probably couldn't travel far on land.

"They clearly were tied to the shore," Gingerich said. "They were living at the land-sea interface and going back and forth."

Compared with previous fossil whale finds, Maiacetus occupies an intermediate position on the evolutionary path that whales traversed as they made the transition from full-time land dwellers to dedicated denizens of the deep. As such, it offers invaluable, new information on structural and behavioral changes that accompanied that transition.

"Specimens this complete are virtual 'Rosetta stones'," Gingerich said, "providing insight into functional capabilities and life history of extinct animals that cannot be gained any other way."


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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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