Science | May 17, 2017 5:00 am

Whales’ 36-Million-Year-Old Missing Link

A 36-million-year-old fossil found in Peru may be the key to whale evolution.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
Getty Images/EyeEm

Scientists have discovered a 36.4-million-years-old fossil in Peru, which is believed to be the oldest baleen whale ancestor ever discovered.

There are two groups of whales roaming the oceans today: Toothed whales (including orcas) and baleen whales (such as humpbacks, as seen above). This fossil may be evidence of a crucial moment in the division of whales.

The fossil was excavated in Playa Media Luna in the Pisco Basin area of southern Peru. Named Mystacodon selenensis, it is believed to have been about 13 feet long. It had teeth, but likely sucked up tiny creatures like shrimp from the ocean floor, feeding in a manner very similar to modern baleen whales.

The Mystacodon selenensis also featured hind limbs sticking out of its body. It is believed these limbs were vestigial organs, serving no real function.