Maiacetus inuus (Good Mother Whale)


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This site was created for Organismal Biology
at UW – La Crosse.
Katelyn Marks and Brittany Dziki

      An interesting question that intrigued many paleontologists was how did the modern day whale make the transition from land to sea? The answer to this transition could not be comprehended without an organism that was amphibious to provide an intermediate stage in the transition.  In 2000 through 2004 scientists found evidence of an organism that had the modifications of the land-mammal body and its supporting skeleton to enable whales to swim efficiently in water. The new organism that they discovered became known as the Maiacetus inuus or the Good Mother Whale.

     The discovery, made by Philip Gingrich, of two skeletons in Kunvit, an eastern Balochistan Province of Pakistan filled in the gaps in the whale’s land-to-water transition (Gingrich et al. 2009). The discovery of the skeletons was huge to the paleontology world. The first skeleton contained a near-term fetus and the second skeleton was near complete. The fetal skeleton preserved within the ribcage of the mother is interpreted as a fetal skeleton rather than an indigested meal because, there was no damage to the fetal skull (Gingerich et al. 2009). The fetus was positioned inside the mother for head-first delivery, giving another clue to paleontologists that female Maiacetus inuus had to return to land to give birth (Gingerich et al. 2009).

     The reconstruction of the 47-million-year-old protocetid archaeocete Maiacetus inuus (Gingerich et al. 2012) was able to provide paleontologists with answers to many of their questions regarding the cetacean family tree. We encourage you to read and explore the classification to become more familiar on Maiacetus inuus and how this ancient animal helped to fill in the fossil gap.

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