I’ve gotta say off the top, I did some light editing to the above image to make a point (it’s only an artistic representation anyway). What I’m saying is I don’t think I’m doing anyone a disservice by changing the color palette from “true to life” to “Lisa Frank-splosion”. Because don’t you want to live in a world where this is all over little kids’ school folders and notebooks instead of a rainbow dolphin?
Unfortunately, we live in the world where this beauty is long extinct. Or maybe it’s not unfortunate given that this whale ancestor was likely amphibious, weighed more than half a ton, and was named Phiomicetus anubis after Anubis, the Egyptian god of death. Yeah, it got that name after scientists calculated just how gnarly its jaws and bite must have been. The study author literally said this thing was a “god of death” to its environment.
This species roamed ancient Africa, which was then a sea, during the Eocene Epoch. This period began roughly 10 million years after the last dance of the dinosaurs and over the next 15-16 million years or so saw the widespread diversification of mammals and the dawn of many modern groups – including cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). The fossilized remains of P. anubis were found in Egypt’s Whale Valley, a particular part of the Sahara Desert that’s basically The Lion King’s elephant graveyard but for extinct whales (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site!).
As if all that isn’t zany enough, the article also points out how whales were once cat-sized deer/rat things (they were) and that this isn’t even the weirdest legged whale we’ve found. Another was found in Peru in 2011 with not only legs but webbed feet AND miniature hooves on the ends of its fingers and toes. Miniature hooves on the ends of its fingers and toes. Flipper really doesn’t work as Hoofer, unless you pivot and suddenly your lighthearted family romp is now animal body horror. I dunno; I didn’t see the movie.
Read the full research article here: A new protocetid whale offers clues to biogeography and feeding ecology in early cetacean evolution
Image from Abdullah Gohar and Smithsonian Magazine.