How the Whale Became 25

The Whale’s Tale: or just a fluke? (Trip

Companion to How the Elephant almost became a Whale on Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord


In 1859, Charles Darwin hesitated over publishing On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection.

It was not because he was concerned about the church’s reaction. He took care to excise any suggestion man was descended from the ape, even if the logical inference was staring people in the face.

And he was not concerned about his fellow scientists. Evolution was old news. His great-uncle Erasmus Darwin wrote about evolution in 1796. In 1806, the French philosopher Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed animals changed shape by reacting to the environment, thus baby giraffes were born with longer necks because their parents were always stretching up to reach the tree tops.

Darwin’s knew his theory of change by natural selection was sound. Farmers had been improving livestock by selective breeding for centuries. It required no stretch of the imagination to see if animals were better suited to natural conditions they would be the ones to breed and pass on their adaptations to offspring.

What Darwin was really worried about was the lack of evidence one animal could change into another. It was obvious people had bred a myriad of dog species from the wolf, but what he was proposing was equal to a dog changing into an elephant.

Darwin needed a transitional form, an animal forming a bridge between one creature and another. Otherwise, how could he explain how a sea mammal like a whale had come from a land animal, when there were no similarities between the two?

Archaeopteryx (Natural hist fossil & its-nature)

Fortunately for Darwin, 2 years after his theory took the world by storm, chance, or perhaps God (who really knows?) provided the perfect transitional fossil. In 1861 Archaeopteryx (ancient feather) was found. This primitive bird, clearly showing imprints of feathers, had a long lizard tail, teeth and claws on its wings. Darwin was vindicated. Yet whales were still a problem and were often used by creationists to confound his theory.


Basilosaurus (BBC Walking with Beasts)

Even before Darwin’s book, the first whale fossils had been found in the 1830s, in the strangest of places: high and dry in Alabama and Arkansas. Initially they were thought to be sea serpents and were christened Basilosaurus meaning lizard king. An enterprising showman used the bones to concoct 120-foot long sea serpent called Hydrarchos Sillimanii and toured England and America. While on tour a prominent zoologist recognised the skull as that of an ancestral whale. While not quite a smoking gun, it was a start.

Dorudon (Walking with Beasts & Prehistoric

As the world went fossil hunting crazy from the 1860s, better fossils were unearthed. Along came a smaller version, Dorudon, living alongside Basilosaurus 35,000,000 years ago. Both animals had long bodies, nostrils at the front of the snout rather than blowhole on the top of the head and vestigial hind legs (now believed to clasp the partner during mating). Evolutionists knew sometimes even modern whales are born with stunted hind legs.

Andrewsarchus (

Rather than the simple conical teeth of modern sperm whales and dolphins, these ancient whales had complex cusped teeth, the same as a group of hoofed flesh eaters. Andrewsarchus is the biggest of these (see ‘How the Elephant Almost Became a Whale’) Now finally, here was a link between land animals and whales. But there was still no smoking gun. They needed an ancestral whale with legs.

Over the years the fossils came along.

Rhodocetus (Paleoartist: Nobu Tamura)

Rodhocetus (45,000,000 years ago) was a more primitive with paddle-like legs but too big and heavy to move about on land.

Then came 2 more, some 3,000,000 older (48MYA), that almost resembled crocodiles.

Remingtonocetus (wikipedia & prehistoric


Kutchicetus (American Natural History Museum)

Another million years earlier was Ambulocetus (Walking Whale): like a cross between a giant otter and a crocodile, spending half its time on riverbanks and the other half underwater with nose and eyes exposed to ambush unwary animals coming to drink (like crocodiles today).

Ambulocetus (paleoartist: Carl Buell)

The most conclusive evidence linking Ambulocetus to whales was they both heard in the same way. Whales have to hear through dense water so they have a hollow jawbone filled with oil to better transmit the sound waves. Ambulocetus had the same mechanism.

Just when they thought it could not get any better, along came the jewel in the crown; a fossil from Pakistan called Pakicetus. At first there was only a skull but there were enough similarities to show Pakicetus was a million year older ancestor of Ambulocetus. When the body was found it proved to be a hoofed land animal.

Pakicetus (Natural History Museum)


Evolutionists were still working out Pakicetus, when along came an earlier relation, a million years older than Pakicetus. Found in Kashmir, Indohyrus was a semi-aquatic pig-like creature about the size of a cat. When DNA from modern whales was compared to even-toes hoofed animals it proved they were most closely related to pigs and hippos.

Indohyrus (Natural History Museum)

Evolution finally had a smoking gun. A complete series of transitional forms from a land animal to fully aquatic whales: where each later creature became successively better adapted in a series of small steps. Best of all, DNA evidence provided independent corroboration.



Whale Evolution (Carl Buell)



*Thus it is shown. Quod Erat Demonstrandum is a Latin phrase originating from mathematical theorem proofs. It is the academic equivalent of ‘Na na na na nah!’ used to signify rubbing someone’s nose in it.

25 thoughts on “How the Whale Became

  1. Reply Teagan R Geneviene Jan 17,2018 8:43 pm

    Well done, Paul. Were you a professor in a past life? I enjoyed this. Hugs.

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  3. Reply Micki Peluso Jan 15,2018 12:52 am

    Paul I just love this stuff. I like the way both whale and elephants are known to have intelligence and long memories. And they are two of my favorite animals. Thanks for a great article!

  4. Reply Christy B Jan 11,2018 6:53 pm

    Charles Darwin continues to inspire discussions! I like the detail with which you write, Paul. Given my religious views, I don’t share the same beliefs but I do always appreciate good writing 🙂

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  6. Reply BRIGID GALLAGHER Jan 9,2018 12:53 pm

    A fascinating post Paul. Such amazing discoveries. 🌼

  7. Reply Denzil Jan 8,2018 4:36 pm

    P.S. Actually I thought this was a brilliant article and a super summary of the evolution of the whale. Bravo!

    • Reply Paul Jan 8,2018 11:59 pm

      Denzil thank you mate I do really appreciate both your comments on this one the Serious one and the very serious one! All my very best your friend Paul

  8. Reply Denzil Jan 8,2018 4:35 pm

    Oh you naughty naughty man Paul. “God provided the transitional fossil!” You are going to have the Religious Right on your doorstep! They will burn your mouse. Spam your inbox with verses from Leviticus. Infect your laptop with the “We Love You Now Go To Hell” virus. You will be forced to change your Gravatar photo into a selfie of you wearing sackcloth and ashes. You have been warned!

    • Reply Paul Jan 8,2018 11:58 pm

      Denzil (LMAO at your comment) but seriously though… he does work in mysterious ways!!! and as for them spamming my inbox I think they are doing that already with bloody adverts for viagra! Got 64 the other day! It must be one of their prophets sending them because I was getting them even before I wrote the post!… Now that’s what I call impressive!

      • Reply Denzil Jan 9,2018 4:55 pm

        Well viagra is probably more use than Leviticus. Not that you need it mate of course! Just talking generically! 🙂

        • Reply Paul Jan 11,2018 7:32 pm

          Thanks Denzil (I think!!!!!)… on the bright side I don’t know about Leviticus but if I ever need to write a post about Viagra I’m laughing! Quids in!!!! All my best mate Paul

  9. Reply sally cronin Jan 8,2018 9:50 am

    Thank you Paul a great explanation and one that will no doubt result in as much discussion. Having just watched blue planet I have so much more respect for the beings living in the sea. So much that most us do not know about our own planet so no wonder we have not taken better care of it. XXX

    • Reply Paul Jan 9,2018 12:09 am

      Dearest sally, I have just finished watching blue planet too, and It has rewritten my understanding of animal emotion and intelligence. Wasn’t it just brilliant. So thrilled you enjoyed the post. Much love your mate PaulXXXXX

  10. Reply Janet Gogerty Jan 8,2018 8:53 am

    How scientists in the past would have loved the handy tool of DNA to prove links.

    • Reply Paul Jan 9,2018 12:01 am

      Dear Janet honestly don’t get me started on subjects close to my hear like DNA analysis and paleo-dating techniques, it is revolutionising everything for someone like me who has to know the when and why of stuff. I still don’t know any of the answers but my questions are getting better. Thanks for your brilliant comment. All my best Px

  11. Reply Robbie Cheadle Jan 8,2018 5:49 am

    A marvelous post, Paul, packed with interesting information. I am going to let Greg read this as he is very into Charles DArwin’s theories of evolution at the moment.

    • Reply Paul Jan 9,2018 12:07 am

      Thank you Robbie I really hope Gregg enjoys it. The paleo artists are brilliant aren’t they and if he hasn’t seen them already I can really recommend the walking with Beasts, Monsters, Dinosaurs & Sea Monsters. Planet Dinosaur (BBC), Dinosaur Planet (Discovery) 6-part series Prehistoric Park (UK) Dinosaur Britain, Dinosaur Revolutions and 3 seasons of Primeval which brings in possible animals from the future… I think most of these are available on You-Tube if he is a bit of dino nut then as a fellow dino nut I can highly recommend them. Love to you and yours P

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