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MAKING A SPLASH

Prehistoric whales were dog-sized creatures with four legs and hooves

Four legged whale illustration
A. Gennari
Peregocetus pacificus having a whale of a time.
  • Zoë Schlanger
By Zoë Schlanger

Environment reporter

Being an illustrator of prehistoric creatures must be great: You get to do things like draw the world’s first image of a four-legged whale. From now on, when anyone wonders, “What did a whale look like roughly 42.6 million years ago?” they will encounter your image as an answer. And what an image!

A. Gennari
An artistic reconstruction of ancient whales on the coast of today’s Peru. “The presence of a tail fluke remains hypothetical,” according to the researchers. What isn’t hypothetical is how fun it must be to draw things like this.

Look at this prehistoric cetacean, about the size of a dog, palling around in the surf off the coast of present-day Peru, about to snack on an ancient sparid fish. The creature was discovered by paleontologists off Peru’s coast in 2011 and named “Peregocetus pacificus,” which means “the traveling whale that reached the Pacific” in Latin. Those paleontologists published their findings in the journal Current Biology on April 4.

It is a major discovery, suggesting that whales and dolphins evolved from ancient creatures with small hooves who could probably walk on land. But those paleontologists did not get to draw this spectacular image. That was the work of one “Alberto Gennari,” who clearly has the best job.

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