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Open access

I. A. Koretsky, L. G. Barnes and S. J. Rahmat

Abstract

The origin of pinnipeds has been a contentious issue, with opposite sides debating monophyly or diphyly. This review uses evidence from the fossil record, combined with comparative morphology, molecular and cytogenetic investigations to evaluate the evolutionary history and phylogenetic relationships of living and fossil otarioid and phocoid pinnipeds. Molecular investigations support a monophyletic origin of pinnipeds, but disregard vital morphological data. Likewise, morphological studies support diphyly, but overlook molecular analyses. This review will demonstrate that a monophyletic origin of pinnipeds should not be completely accepted, as is the current ideology, and a diphyletic origin remains viable due to morphological and paleobiological analyses. Critical examination of certain characters, used by supporters of pinniped monophyly, reveals different polarities, variability, or simply convergence. The paleontological record and our morphological analysis of important characters supports a diphyletic origin of pinnipeds, with otarioids likely arising in the North Pacific from large, bear-like animals and phocids arising in the North Atlantic from smaller, otter-like ancestors. Although members of both groups are known by Late Oligocene time, each developed and invaded the aquatic environment separately from their much earlier, common arctoid ancestor. Therefore, we treat the superfamily Otarioidea as being monophyletic, including the families Enaliarctidae, Otariidae (fur seals/sea lions), Desmatophocidae, and Odobenidae (walruses and extinct relatives), and the superfamily Phocoidea as monophyletic, including only the family Phocidae, with four subfamilies (Devinophocinae, Phocinae, Monachinae, and Cystophorinae).