While most of us are fascinated by whales today, taking a look back in time at this is also intriguing. More than 37 million years ago is believed to be the time frame for them. It is believed this was around the Tethys Ocean and that the creature was at least 50 feet in length. It also had very large jaws and teeth that were jagged. This is based on the remains that were found buried under all of that sediment.
The remains were found by a Paleontologist from the University of Michigan, Philip Gingerich. By this time, the layout of the water had shifted so that it was actually found on land, in a place where water had once been. The find was exceptional though as it fully showed the bones of the early whales. What was so unique about this find was that the two hind legs showed that at one point, they were able to walk on all fours.
The metamorphosis though shows that over time, evolution took place that resulted in the whale being an aquatic only life form. Thus, the transformation with a body that was designed to move with ease in the water. In the area known as Rosetta Stones, Gingerich and his team have found the remains of several whales. Each of them has allowed them to continue to put together more pieces of the puzzle.
It is believed that the common ancestor of the whale, as well as many other land animals, is a type of tetrapod that looked like a salamander with a flat head. It is believed to have come from the water to the banks more than 360 million years ago. Over time, they were able to develop lungs that allowed them to breathe on land. There were mammals that lived on land. The opposite of that evolutionary process though involves the whale. Over time, they were able to move, reproduce, find food, and live in the water.
It is believed that the habitat on land may not have been providing for them successfully about 45 million years ago. They moved into the water, but then over time had to move further and further and further into the water. This may have been when their necks became fused to offer them stiffness to help them navigate through the water more efficiently.
The big mystery though is HOW whales were able to successfully go through such an amazing transformation. Some of the best experts in the world of science have tried to tackle such tough questions. One of the theories is that natural selection played a key role in the evolution of the whale. What is agreed upon is that the process of evolution would have taken a very long time, not occurred rapidly.
One of the most well-known Paleontologists of the 20th Century, George Gaylord Simpson, admits that it is hard to determine where in the order of evolution that the whale fits. He thinks that they may fit into their own order and dimension instead of into a location already mapped out by other forms of living mammals and their believed evolutionary paths.
The remains of early whales have been successfully identified and documented with DNA testing and other technology that is available. It is fascinating to see all of the changes that have occurred over millions of years. Yet there are still plenty of questions and theories that surround the topic of their evolution process. Only time will tell what we discover in terms of more fossils as well as reveal from additional testing techniques as technology continues to move forward.