Monday, November 06, 2006

The Dolphin Who Dreamed of Being a Man

Via the Drudge Report comes a story about a dolphin picked up in a fishing net off the coast of Japan last week. Upon close inspection, the fishermen were shocked to see that Flipper was flippier than most of his brethren — in short, he had a pair of rear fins near his tail. About the size of a human hand, according to various news articles, the fins apparently helped the dolphin swim. More importantly, however, the dolphin’s extra appendages may be proof that the species evolved from a land-walking mammal that existed eons ago.

One article notes that the animal was “dog-like” before it eventually made its home in the water, lost the fur and slowly adapted to aquatic acrobatics. “The creatures, which belonged to a group called Pakicetids, looked like a cross between a wolf and a tapir and had large heads, long powerful tails, spindly legs and ankle bones well adapted for running,” London’s Daily Mail states. So not only does this give zoologists insight into the history of the dolphin itself, but it may help support claims that animals evolved into the states we’re familiar with today. Others, however, are not so quick to judge and state that this particular dolphin is merely the result of seaborne mutagens, not unlike the way exposure to DNA-altering chemicals sometimes gives people flippers.

Debate aside, Japanese scientists hail the discovery as “unprecedented,” though the article also notes that animal researches have known for years that fetal dolphins develop tiny “leg buds” before attaining their familiar dolphin shapes when they’re ready to be born.

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