We discuss a model for the origin of cetacean swimming that is based on hydrodynamic and kinematic data of modern mammalian swimmers. The model suggests that modern otters (Mustelidae: Lutrinae) display several of the locomotor modes that early cetaceans used at different stages in the transition from land to water. We use mustelids and other amphibious mammals to analyze the morphology of the Eocene cetacean Ambulocetus natans, and we conclude that Ambulocetus may have locomoted by a combination of pelvic paddling and dorsoventral undulations of the tail, and that its locomotor mode in water resembled that of the modern otter Lutra most closely. We also suggest that cetacean locomotion may have resembled that of the freshwater otter Pteronura at a stage beyond Ambulocetus.

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