, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 272-288,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 16 Apr 2009

From Land to Water: the Origin of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises


Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) are an order of mammals that originated about 50 million years ago in the Eocene epoch. Even though all modern cetaceans are obligate aquatic mammals, early cetaceans were amphibious, and their ancestors were terrestrial artiodactyls, similar to small deer. The transition from land to water is documented by a series of intermediate fossils, many of which are known from India and Pakistan. We review raoellid artiodactyls, as well as the earliest families of cetaceans: pakicetids, ambulocetids, remingtonocetids, protocetids, and basilosaurids. We focus on the evolution of cetacean organ systems, as these document the transition from land to water in detail.