Fossils of a four-legged whale that lived off the coast of Peru more than 40 million years ago have been discovered by researchers.
The mammal, which is estimated to be 13 feet long, has been named Peregocetus pacificus. The presence of small hooves on the ends of its fingers and the morphology of its hips and limbs has led researchers to believe it could walk on land.
"This is the first indisputable record of a quadrupedal whale skeleton for the whole Pacific Ocean, probably the oldest for the Americas, and the most complete outside India and Pakistan," said Olivier Lambert of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in a statement.
Lambert continued: "When digging around the outcropping bones, we quickly realized that this was the skeleton of a quadrupedal whale, with both forelimbs and hind limbs."
In addition to four limbs, which provided the capability to walk on land and return to the sea, Peregocetus likely also had an elongated snout and teeth to capture prey. Modern-day whales use baleen, which is made out of the same protein that makes up human hair and fingernails, to capture prey.
"The moderately elongated snout bearing robust anterior teeth with markedly ornamented enamel and shearing molars suggests that this medium-size protocetid was capable of preying upon relatively large prey, for example, large bony fish, an interpretation further supported by the incipient apical dental wear," Lambert said in comments obtained by SWNS.
Ancient whale discoveries have primarily been in India and Pakistan, but the find of Peregocetus marks a new era for researchers, Lambert said.
"This is the first indisputable record of a quadrupedal whale skeleton for the whole Pacific Ocean, probably the oldest for the Americas, and the most complete outside India and Pakistan," added.
The findings have been published in the scientific journal Current Biology.