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Puijila (Wikimedia Commons)


Puijila (Eskimo for "young seal"); pronounced pwee-JEE-lah


Shores of western Canada

Historical Epoch:

Late Oligocene-Early Miocene (25-20 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 3 feet long and 25-50 pounds


Fish and small animals

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Lack of flippers; otter-like body


About Puijila:

You can gauge the importance of Puijila in the paleontological community by its full name, Puijila darwini, since the famous naturalist Charles Darwin is only evoked for important evolutionary "missing links." The 25-million-year-old Puijila didn't look much like the ultimate ancestor of modern seals, sea lions and walruses (in the same way that "walking whales" like Ambulocetus didn't much resemble their giant marine descendants)--but an analysis of the head and teeth of this otter-like mammal shows that that's exactly what it was, predating the already ancient Enaliarctos on the pinniped family tree. As early as it was, Puijila was only just getting comfortable with a semi-aquatic existence, and judging by its lack of flippers it probably spent most of its time on dry land. (By the way, Puijila was closely related to another basal pinniped of the Miocene epoch, Potamotherium, the "river beast.")

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