A ‘manatee whale’ swam off the coast of Africa 40 million years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of researchers has described a new species of whale that lived about 40 million years ago in North Africa.

Unlike modern dolphins and fin whales, this ancient animal was not a graceful swimmer of the open ocean, but spent most of its time in shallow water, like modern manatees.

During the Eocene , about 40 million years ago, the pinnacle of whale evolution were basilosaurids – primitive predatory whales, in whose appearance many features of four-legged land animals were still preserved.

However, within the next five million years, they were replaced by whales of the modern type, and by the end of the Eocene, the last basilosaurs became extinct.

Nevertheless, these strange whales are the key to our understanding of how terrestrial ungulates, related to the ancestors of hippos, gradually turned into aquatic animals that spend their entire lives away from the coast.

Now, after examining the fossils of one of the species of primitive whales, Antaecetus aithai, scientists have come to the conclusion that before swimming in the open ocean, the whales first splashed in the “paddling pool” in shallow water.

After examining the bones of an ancient whale, the researchers found that they were unusually dense and heavy, similar to those of modern manatees.

The last massive skeleton serves as ballast when diving, allowing you to stay at the bottom and feed on algae without any extra effort.

However, such a skeleton also has its drawbacks: manatees are slow and clumsy swimmers.

Could Antaecetus aithai lead the same way of life, given that their mouths were filled with sharp teeth, clearly not intended for eating algae and sea grass?

The researchers believe that it is quite: on the seabed there are many sedentary animals with a soft body, not protected by a shell, in addition, the ancient whale had an impressive lung capacity and could ambush, say, lying motionless in anticipation of a gaping fish.

A manatee whale swam off the coast of Africa 40 million years ago 2
Today’s manatees are the bulk of the underwater world, and ancient whales were no better

Such a way of feeding is not extremely efficient – unlike algae, mobile prey more often eludes a predator than falls into its mouth – so it does not occur in modern cetaceans.

Competition with other aquatic mammals forced the whales to move to life in the open ocean, severing close ties to both land and the seabed.

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