Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Just So Stories’

2954

Photo: Reuters

Did someone read you Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories when you were a child? My father read them to me. My favorite was “The Elephant’s Child.”

“In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk.” I loved hearing about the elephant’s child’s “satiable curiosity.” I loved the way the characters talked. The bi-colored python rock snake on the banks of the grey-green, greasy Limpopo River all set about with fever trees spoke just like my Uncle Jim.

Recently, an article in the Guardian reminded me of Kipling’s fanciful stories about how animals looked before they acquired their characteristic traits. It was an article about the whale.

Riley Black wrote, “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.

Peregocetus pacificus – as named by a seven-strong paleontologist team led by Olivier Lambert – is [a mammal] that was excavated from the bed of an ancient ocean now preserved in Peru. … This was a whale that still had arms and legs, the firm attachment of the hips to the spine and flattened toe-tips indicating that Peregocetus was an amphibious creature capable of strutting along the beach. Yet conspicuous expansions to the tailbones of Peregocetus are reminiscent of living mammals, such as otters, that swim with an up-and-down, undulating motion … different from the side-to-side swish of most fish. …

“There are two points that make Peregocetus stand out. The first, Lambert and colleagues point out, is where Peregocetus was found. This early whale wasn’t discovered in ancient Asia, like many others, but in South America. It’s the first of its kind to be found on the continent, and from the Pacific side, at that. This is something of a surprise. Clearly whales were eminently seaworthy long before they became more streamlined and lost their hindlimbs. Finds such as Peregocetus, as well as the related Georgiacetus from North America, indicate that walking whales were capable of crossing entire oceans.

“But, more importantly, Peregocetus is a reminder of what wonders still await us in the fossil record. … Peregocetus [stands] in our fossiliferous imagination with its hind feet on the land and front paws in the water. The whale certainly adds to our understanding of how and when cetaceans took to the seas, but the most powerful fact of all is simply that such an unusual and unexpected creature existed.” More here.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: