Whales have been one of the oldest creatures on the planet, and it is said that they evolved millions of years ago along with the hippopotamus. There are still many things we don’t know about these gentle giants and what is quite interesting is that their closest living relatives from millions of years ago are hippos – land mammals.
Isn’t it amazing, right? Their close relatives are land mammals; it is an amazing discovery in which people should be invested to know more about the evolution of whales. If you are one of the few ones who want to know more about these gentle giants roaming around earth’s waters, then lucky for you, we’ve got you covered. We’ll list some interesting facts about the evolution of whales you need to know.
5 Interesting Facts About The Evolution of Whales
While there are various theories relating to different facts about the evolution of whales, there are still studies needed to prove the theory. However, there are also a lot of interesting facts that people need to know about these gentle giants. Learn more about them further down below.
Whales Appeared 50 Million Years Ago
Along with their cetacean cousins of dolphins, whales emerged around 50 million years ago. The archaeological evidence unearthed along the Himalayan Foothills in Pakistan, dating back to 51 million years, showed that whales could walk. This prehistoric fossil was named “Pakicetus” and was described as a furry four-legged animal, small and resembling an otter but with a crocodilian head.
Another 49 million-year-old fossil was unearthed in Pakistan in 1994 that also closely resembles “Pakicetus” but has splayed legs and was relatively larger than the first one. They were then considered transitional fossils as they have shown ancestral features linked to one another and have been thought to be the earliest fossils between whales and land animals.
They Are Cousins With Hippos
Many scientists that extensively studied whales said that genetic evidence has shown that hippos are their closest land cousins, and just like them, they are also mammals. They have undeniably similar features: having no scrotums, sebaceous glands, or hair and having similar lungs.
Some scientists believed that whales evolved from artiodactyls. Millions of years ago, it resembles a small creature that resembles a hippopotamus with four hoofs. These artiodactyls are abundant in Eurasian regions, and some of them were marsh-dwelling creatures that are also believed to have evolved into whales.
They Breathe Air
Since whales are mammals like dolphins and hippopotamus, they also breathe air! Whales and other mammals are known as conscious breathers – which means that they actively know when to breathe, hence the name. Humans are what we call involuntary breathers, which means we humans don’t have to think just to breathe, but we just breathe unconsciously.
But suppose you’re thinking about how they breathe whenever they sleep. In that case, one of the reasons why they can still breathe while they’re sleeping is because they have this ability to shut down one side of their brain at a time, allowing them to breathe onto the surface while the other side is needed to alert them when they need to breathe.
Two Types of Cetaceans
Whales belong to the family of Cetaceans – the same as orcas, dolphins, and porpoises. But did you know that there are two species of cetaceans? Toothed whales primarily consist of orcas, narwhals, and beluga whales.
On the other hand, baleen whales are one of the bigger and have baleen plates that are used to sieve through food when opening their mouth, catching their prey when water passes through. Toothed whales don’t use their teeth to chew. Instead, they use it to grab hold of their prey for feeding.
Whales Keep The Balance
As enormous as they are, Whales tend to feed on some of the smallest creatures in the ocean, known as krill. As a prime example, a blue whale eats around 4 tons of krill per day, yup, and you heard that right! When they eat large portions of these creatures in the ocean, it keeps the balance afloat for the various ecosystems.
On the flip side, whales are also prey, and orcas tend to feed on other species of whales. However, when a whale dies, it is one of the most nutrient-rich dead bodies known to man that when it falls into the abyss, it becomes a portion of food for deep-sea creatures.
Their Fecal Matter is Powerful
As mentioned earlier, whale poops are considered nutrient-rich, which means they can feed other microorganisms in the ocean that are also food sources for other organisms. For example, their nutrient-rich poop is a fertilizer for phytoplankton- they are tiny plants responsible for pulling carbon dioxide from the air while providing oxygen. Almost 50 to 85% of the air we breathe is from phytoplankton, which means some of our air comes from the ocean.
Whales Combat Climate Change
It has been widely studied that whales, great whales, play an important role in climate change. It was recently discovered that whales capture carbon from the atmosphere throughout their lifetime, each of them could garner around 25 to 33 tons of carbon dioxide on average.
Imagine how helpful they can be if we can double, triple, or even quadruple their population in just a few years. A cleaner atmosphere might be achieved in this process. To put it in perspective, a single tree can only absorb around 48 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, and it pales in comparison to the capability of great whales.
Wrapping Things Up
Overall, whales are prehistoric creatures that have found their way into our world for millions of years. Their adaptation to this modern has left scientists astounded about how they have survived millions of years because of it. Unfortunately, humans are still their primary threats to their survival.
Still, there are many things worth noting as more and more organizations and people are protecting and conserving these gentle beings for centuries to come. A little help goes a long way in helping these creatures’ population rise; support whale conservation and animal conservation as they are key components in making this world a better place.
Appreciate the Ocean and everything around it more by start wearing our unique designs of ATOLEA Ocean-inspired jewelry. Our designs were inspired by our deep love to the ocean and we wanted to share with you our passion of keeping the marine life safe and protected.
Dive into our ATOLEA Sea-inspired jewelry collection now and bring with you the spirit of the whales and the sea anywhere you go!