This selection of whale-related items at Marlborough Museum is drawn from our collections of natural history, Maori taonga-treasures, Victorian and 20th century examples. This diversity reminds us about the complex relationship humans have had over the centuries with these extraordinary creatures who we share the planet with.
Today hippos are the closest living relatives of whales, but they are not the ancestors of whales.
Ancient relatives of hippos called anthracotheres were not large or aquatic. Nor were the ancient relatives of whales such as Pakicetus. Hippos most probably evolved from a group of anthracotheres about 15 million years ago, the first whales evolved over 50 million years ago, and the ancestor of both these groups was terrestrial.
These first whales, such as Pakicetus, were typical land animals. They had long skulls and large carnivorous teeth. From the outside, they don't look much like whales at all. However, their skulls — particularly in the ear region, which is surrounded by a bony wall — strongly resemble those of living whales.
Often, seemingly minor features provide critical evidence to link animals that are highly specialized for their lifestyles (such as whales) with their less extreme-looking relatives …. Occasionally, we discover a living whale with the vestiges of tiny hindlimbs inside its body wall.
(From: evolution.berkeley.edu which has clear and helpful graphics about whale evolution).
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