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The whale with legs shows how little we know about Earth’s fantastical past | Riley Black

The excavation of the extraordinary fossil Peregocetus pacificus in Peru is a reminder of the wonders still awaiting discovery
‘The prehistoric swimmer wouldn’t have looked like any whale we’re familiar with today.’ Photograph: Reuters

Whales used to live on land. This fact never ceases to amaze me. Even though every living species of cetacean – from the immense blue whale to the river dolphins of the Amazon basin – is entirely aquatic, there were times when the word “whale” applied entirely to amphibious, crocodile-like beasts that splashed around at the water’s edge. This week, paleontologists named another.

– as named by a seven-strong paleontologist team led by Olivier Lambert – is a was an amphibious creature capable of strutting along the beach. Yet conspicuous expansions to the tailbones of are reminiscent of living mammals, such as otters, that swim with an up-and-down, undulating motion. This was an Eocene preview of the way modern whales move, different from the side-to-side swish of most fish.

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