Monday, December 24, 2007

Controversy Sparks Over Whale Lineage

What’s the missing link between sea-faring mammals, called cataceans (like whales, dolphins) and land mammals? Conventional wisdom suggests its hippo-like creatures. But recent fossil findings recommend that a “deer-like animal roughly the size of a fox or raccoon,” is the link. This according to a widely reported study by the Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Pharmacy (this blog posting draws quotes, sources a report at Scientific American.)

The long extinct “deer-like” animal, dubbed “Indohyus,” shares a number of unique skeletal characteristics with cataceans. For example, particularly dense limb bones (which could serve as ballast) and a specialized inner ear structure that helps cataceans hear underwater.

Why would these adaptations evolve in a terrestrial creature? Some researchers suggest they took to the water to escape predators.

But the theory isn’t without skeptics. Referring to the indohyus fossils, one expert said, “To suggest that this fossil somehow is closer than hippos, that's a big deal -- I'm just not convinced.” According to critics, the data so far is “incomplete.”

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.