Return to the Sea: The Evolution of Marine Mammals

  • Randall W. Davis


Early Cetacea are classified as Archaeoceti (six families), and their fossils reveal the morphological and functional evolution of early, terrestrial Artiodactyla to fully aquatic Cetacea over 15 million years during the Eocene (~52 Mya). The evolution of modern Cetacea (Neoceti: Mysticeti and Odontoceti) began in the late Eocene (~37 Mya). As with Mysticeti, late Eocene Dorudontidae were a likely sister group of early Odontoceti. The evolution of Sirenia began in the early Eocene (56–48 Mya). Fossil pinnipedimorphs only extend to the late Oligocene (27–25 Mya). Morphological and molecular evidence support a monophyletic origin for the three extant families of pinnipeds (Otariidae, Odobenidae, and Phocidae) within the taxonomic order Carnivora. The earliest fossils of Enhydra sp. are from early Pleistocene (2.6–1.8 Mya). There is no fossil record to document the evolution of the physiological adaptations that occur in living marine mammals. The dive response and enhanced oxygen stores, which increased the aerobic dive duration, and blubber for thermal insulation may have been early adaptations in each of the marine mammal lineages. The exception are fur seals and the sea otter, which rely on waterproof fur. Adaptations to avoid the detrimental effects of pressure during deep diving may have come later.


Evolution Phylogeny Fossils Archaeoceti Mysticeti Odontoceti Dugongs Manatees Phocidae Otariidae Odobenidae 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Randall W. Davis
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine BiologyTexas A&M UniversityGalvestonUSA

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