Back to the Origions

Categories // English Channel Wildlife Officer

Back to the Origions

Do you know how long whales have been on the earth for? 

Hello Whale lovers!

Another week has passed on-board DFDS Transmanche ferries between Dieppe and Newhaven. It started off with a heat wave but then we had rainy days over the week-end with a rough enough sea to make passengers uncomfortable. I ran into a lot of familiar faces again, with some people coming to my talk two to three times - I still cannot believe it! On the crossing back on Wednesday, I had an amazing group of French speakers join me on deck. Very curious and eager to know more, we ended up chatting on deck until the very last possible minute when the announcements to disembark were displayed. One question I was asked this week during my talk by a lovely gentleman and which quickly became the main focus of our late discussion; “How long have whales been on Earth for?”    

Do you know?

First, you should be aware that since the beginning of time, there has always been one Class predominant on the planet. By that, I do not necessarily mean that it has the highest number of species or diversity but that the animals of this Class dominate the occupancy. Back when there were dinosaurs, reptiles were the top Class on Earth. Following the Fifth extinction at the Cretaceous/Tertiary period, their disappearance allowed the space to be taken by a new Class and Mammals had the chance to take over, a spot they still have today. By expanding and evolving quickly, competition for resources and habitats rose, forcing some of them to turn to the aquatic world to feed and shelter. The most ancient and well-known ancestor of today’s whales is a terrestrial mammal, the Pakicetus, named after the first fossil found in Pakistan, a sort of big dog-like animal already dependent to the marine habitat with its pointy and elongated nose to fish, and its long and agile tail for efficient swimming. Through millions of years of evolution, it changed into numerous creatures becoming more and more water-dependent to finally arise as the cetaceans we are familiar with today. How archaeologists have been able to confirm that whale’s ancestor had 4-limbs? Thanks to the presence of a vestige bone located in the lower back and stomach area, detached and useless but formerly the junction between the hip and the coccyx. It is thought to disappear over time due to its lack of function. Whales have then been on our planet for millions of years and have grown into gigantic creatures thanks to the unique properties of their environment.

With the start of ORCA OceanWatch week, all our surveyors have eyes on decks to spot a maximum of these majestic giants! As they are indicator species, they represent the true health of our oceans, let’s all keep our fingers crossed to sight as many as possible! 


ORCA Wildlife Officer – The English Channel