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Pakicetus (Wikimedia Commons)


Pakicetus (Greek for "Pakistan whale"); pronounced PACK-ih-SEE-tuss


Shores of central Asia

Historical Epoch:

Early Eocene (50 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 3 feet long and 50 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small size; dog-like appearance


About Pakicetus:

If you happened to stumble across the small, dog-sized Pakicetus 50 million years ago, you'd never have guessed that its descendants would one day include giant sperm whales and gray whales. As far as paleontologists can tell, this was the earliest of all the prehistoric whales, a tiny, terrestrial, four-footed mammal that ventured only occasionally into the water to nab fish (we know that Pakicetus was largely landbound because its ears weren't well adapted to hearing underwater). Over the next 10 or 20 million years, the limbs of Pakicetus' great-great-great, etc. grandchildren gradually evolved into flippers, and the whale lineage was launched in an irreversibly aquatic direction. (By the way, Pakicetus wasn't the only walking whale of its day; its close relatives on the Indian subcontinent included Ambulocetus and Indohyus.)

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