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WARNING: This article contains some graphic content
The recent discovery is thought to be a lasting trait from early whale ancestors, who are thought to have walked on land 50 million years ago.
Dr Mark D Scherz, assistant professor of vertebrate zoology & curator of herpetology at Statens Naturhistoriske Museum in Demark, announced the slightly unnerving revelation.
During the dissection of a beak whale, Scherz had pulled back the flesh from the mammal's flippers, only to be met with strange finger-like appendages.
More scientifically, those appendages are known as the 'pentadactyl limb', which is found in humans, amphibians and a selection of other creatures.
Speaking to IFL Science, Scherz said: "Flippers have evolved repeatedly in various lineages of mammals and reptiles, each time in a different way.
"The fundamental structure is the pentadactyl limb, but the specific structure [of the limbs] differ very strongly."
Taking to Twitter, Scherz went into a little more detail, writing: "This is what it looks like when you remove the inter-digital flesh from a whale's flipper.
"Amazing to see how well the pentadactyl limb is retained!"
He then went on to give credit to a fellow researcher working on the project, while offering an update on the limb once it had been cleaned up.
He continued: "I must give credit to Mikkel Høegh Post, who prepared the flipper in this manner! Awesome to see him and the other researchers working on this animal.
"This is that flipper now! Mikkel carefully tied each bone to a lattice so that the precise arrangement is kept through maceration. Look at those articular cartilages!"
This is that flipper now! Mikkel carefully tied each bone to a lattice so that the precise arrangement is kept through maceration. Look at those articular cartilages! pic.twitter.com/TG7GXikKzQ
- Dr Mark D. Scherz (@MarkScherz) September 9, 2021
A number of replies to the thread were quick to ask whether whales were essentially just wearing mittens - a completely valid question.
One particularly bemused reply quizzed: "Are flippers an extreme case of webbed fingers where the webbing enveloped everything?"
To which Scherz offered a fascinating explanation: "I also had never seen them articulated in a way that conveyed how finger-y they really are.
"So webbing is interesting because it is the default state; apoptosis [programmed cell death] drives finger separation. Skip it, and you get a webbed hand. I guess they expanded beyond it to add more flesh."
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