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Japanese Researchers Find Dolphin with 'Remains' of Legs; 'An Unprecedented Discovery'

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TOKYO, Japan -- Japanese researchers said Sunday that a bottlenose dolphin captured last month has an extra set of fins that could be the remains of hind legs, a discovery that may provide further evidence that ocean-dwelling mammals once lived on land.

Fishermen captured the four-finned dolphin alive off the coast of Wakayama prefecture (state) in western Japan on Oct. 28, and alerted the nearby Taiji Whaling Museum, according to museum director Katsuki Hayashi.

Fossil remains show dolphins and whales were four-footed land animals about 50 million years ago and share the same common ancestor as hippos and deer. Scientists believe they later transitioned to an aquatic lifestyle and their hind limbs disappeared.

Whale and dolphin fetuses also show signs of hind protrusions but these generally disappear before birth.

Though odd-shaped protrusions have been found near the tails of dolphins and whales captured in the past, researchers say this was the first time one had been found with well-developed, symmetrical fins, Hayashi said.

"I believe the fins may be remains from the time when dolphins' ancient ancestors lived on land ... this is an unprecedented discovery," Seiji Osumi, an adviser at Tokyo's Institute of Cetacean Research, said at a news conference televised Sunday.

The second set of fins, much smaller than the dolphin's front fins, are about the size of human hands and protrude from near the tail on the dolphin's underside. The dolphin measures 8.92 feet and is about five years old, according to the museum.

Hayashi said he could not tell from watching the dolphin swim in a musuem tank whether it used its back fins to maneuver.

A freak mutation may have caused the ancient trait to reassert itself, Osumi said. The dolphin will be kept at the Taiji museum to undergo X- ray and DNA tests, according to Hayashi.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

19 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

Will the dolphin suffer the usual fate of cetaceans that fall into Japanese hands?
   comment# 1   - Gibberer · Australia · Nov 6, 2006 @ 2:34am

that is soooo cool dinos r coming back!
   comment# 2   - rin · san antonio tx · Feb 12, 2007 @ 10:16am

it looks like a cross between a lizard and a fish
   comment# 3   - jessica gardner · williamston, nc · Feb 14, 2007 @ 4:43pm

Wow...Mother Nature is truly Amazing.
   comment# 4   - Jamessyy · Melbourne, Australia · Apr 20, 2007 @ 3:02am

i think it just did not fully develop in the wound.
   comment# 5   - brian · missouri,usa · Jun 22, 2007 @ 4:31am

I think it would be totally cool if humanity just witnessed some sort of "next step in evolution" sort of thing. Four finned cetaceans are taking over!
   comment# 6   - Grey · Montreal, Canada · Nov 24, 2007 @ 9:22pm

according to my research it might have gained its ancetors extra fin its ancestor is basilosaurus but is so large its even larger than a dolphin
   comment# 7   - hanz kyle · phillipines · Feb 3, 2008 @ 9:54pm

i have to agree Gibberer on this one.I can honestly hope that the Japanese do plan on relocating the dolphin back to the ocean instead of making chop-sui out of it. poor thing is probably scared to death.
   comment# 8   - cookie1014 · united states · Aug 11, 2008 @ 3:44am

okay that is stupid. Dolphins can't just live on land then just one day wake up and go hey its time to live in water! If it's even a dolphin it just didnt develop properly. its like a human and getting an extra finger or an extra toe. it does happen to animals too. I think people should just leave these poor animals alone. I feel sorry for these animals who get tested on and what not. animals have things wrong with them just like humans. Its nothing out of the ordinary.
   comment# 9   - katlyn · Canada · Sep 27, 2008 @ 1:22am

why do you people have 2 go snooping around in nature's business? i hope you put that poor dolphin back home where he belongs. u wouldn't like it if u got kidnapped by a bunch of dolphins.
   comment# 10   - Luna Fujibayashi · mobile,AL · Sep 29, 2008 @ 6:47am

Poor dolphin... Can't they just leave mother nature alone??? The only reason they took him away was because he was a little different!!! There are also people with 3 arms, and they don't take away that person too??? I really hope they will put it back where it belongs and alive!!!!!! It's only what I say, but I love dolphins and the nature and i don't want them to mess with it!!!
   comment# 11   - Carmen · Leiden, Holland · Jan 7, 2009 @ 11:18am

i hate that the Japanese are killing dolphins cause the government wants them to and i hope they let this poor dolphin go. they took it just cause it has some extra fins i think that is wrong so i say STOP KILLING THE DOLPHINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
   comment# 12   - alex · somewhere,missouri · Jan 8, 2009 @ 4:55pm

Research has to be done in order to know how to help them. People don't do research just to kill stuff. We do it for environmental purposes. If we hadn't done biological research, a lot of the protected species we have now would be extinct. Don't blame research.
   comment# 13   - Andy · Mansfield University fisheries program · Feb 25, 2009 @ 7:31am

Andy, although I would have to somewhat agree with you, a lot of research is required for the better of man kind, so we can understand the environment we live in. But with today's technology, I wish they would just simply withdraw some of the dolphin's blood while they caught it, take photos as they have done so, and even have a portable mini x-ray machine in a camera and take a shot of its bone structure, or even an ultra sound machine to hear its internal organs... (Yes these machines do exist!) There is no need I believe to take something out of its environment to run some tests too see how it lived in its surroundings, when you have pulled it out of that environment, which would not be a true reading. I seriously doubt the Japanese will release this dolphin which saddens me deeply, because if this was mother natures occurrence and one of its kind, I guess we can all mark that down as to the last living four fin dolphin, as now this one is extinct! :(
   comment# 14   - Georgea · Australia · Mar 2, 2009 @ 7:18pm

georgea,by the time they'ev done all that reasearch it would be dead from staying out of the water,duh.
   comment# 15   - dana · somewhere,florida · Mar 19, 2009 @ 6:01pm

Dana... O.o does that dolphin in that photo above appear to be out of water too you? Umm no... I don't think I made any reference to pulling the water inhabit creature out of the water onto dry land... (Georgea: "There is no need I believe to take something out of its environment to run some tests too see how it lived in its surroundings, when you have pulled it out of that environment, which would not be a true reading.") For a more simple break down for you to understand taking out of one’s environment and placing into another means – from the ocean to a water tank (that’s not the ocean it came from – its environment) duh!
   comment# 16   - Georgea · Australia · Mar 25, 2009 @ 10:37pm

didn't you you get the memo? the japs made this a a hoax. they created silicone hind flippers and attached them. this is so they can justify whaling in the name of scientific research
   comment# 17   - Ennis · Auckland, New zealand · Jul 2, 2009 @ 3:33pm

Does anyone know if this dolphin is still alive today? Did they try to breed it or save DNA for future cloning?
   comment# 18   - Jean · Pasadena CA USA · May 31, 2011 @ 7:27pm

Kaitlyn, I hate to break it to you, but you have absolutely no idea how evolution works whatsoever. Believe it or not, we have fossil records of the dolphins ancestors, who were amphibious (living on land and water) while gradually living on land less and less as new species descended from them. It's called a transitional species, and believe it or not we have our own fossil records of transitional species between our latest common ancestor with chimpanzees. Did we come from chimpanzees? No. But we share an ancestor species with them. And dolphins ancestors lived on land.
   comment# 19   - alex · louisville, USA · Dec 8, 2013 @ 2:02am
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