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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
*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.