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No. 250 "Vital Articles on Science/Creation" April 1994
When Is A Whale A Whale?
by Dr. Duane T. Gish*
Copyright (c) 1994 by I.C.R.
All Rights Reserved
* Dr. Gish is Senior Vice President of the Institute for Creation
Evolutionists are desperate in their search to find transitional or
intermediate forms to validate their theory of evolution. If, as they
believe, millions of species of plants and animals have evolved during
hundreds of millions of years, many billions times billions of
transitional forms would have lived and died during those hundreds of
millions of years, and thus there should be no difficulty in finding
fossils of a very large number of these transitional forms. In fact, our
museums, among the 250,000 different fossil species in their
collections, should have tens of thousands of transitional forms. One
would not have to be an expert paleontologist and anatomist to
recognize, for example, a structure halfway between a forelimb and a
wing, or something halfway between an ordinary jaw of a reptile and the
bill of a duck-billed dinosaur. Much to the dismay of evolutionists,
however, when it comes to these coveted transitional forms, they must do
much with little or nothing.
This situation is strikingly true concerning the origin of whales,
dolphins, and other marine mammals.
In one of Ronier's concluding statements in his discussion of the
subungulates (conies, elephants, sea cows), he says, "conies,
proboscideans, and sirenians were already distinct groups at the time
when they first appear in the fossil record." Olson states that if
we seek the ancestries of the marine mammals we run into a blank wall as
far as intermediate stages between land and sea are concerned. His
remark included the seals, dolphins, and whales.
Speaking of whales, Colbert said, "These mammals must have had an
ancient origin, for no intermediate forms are apparent in the fossil
record between the whales and the ancestral Cretaceous placentals. Like
the bats, the whales (using the term in a general and inclusive sense)
appear suddenly in early Tertiary times, fully adapted by profound
modifications of the basic mammalian structure for a highly specialized
mode of life. Indeed, the whales are even more isolated with relation to
other mammals than the bats; they stand quite alone."
In their eagerness to produce evidence to bridge this enormous gap,
and in doing so not only to verify their expectations but also to
enhance their reputations and advance their careers, we do not question
the honesty of evolutionists. We do question their objectivity and
their conclusions, based on scanty and questionable evidence. In 1983,
headlines in newspapers all over the world, based on an article
published by Gingerich and co-workers, trumpeted the discovery of a
so-called primitive whale which established a link between whales and
their hypothetical land-mammal ancestor, the hoofed mammalian carnivore,
Mesonyx. The fossil material consisted solely of the posterior portion
of the cranium, two fragments of the lower jaw, and isolated upper- and
lower- cheek teeth. The creature was given the name Pakicetus inachus.
This fossil material was found in fluvial red sediments, or
river-produced deposits colored by material leached from iron ores.
This formation is thus a terrestrial or continental deposit. The fossil
remains associated with Pakicetus are dominated by land mammals.
Non-mammalian remains include other terrestrial remains such as snails,
fishes (particularly catfish), turtles, and crocodiles. This evidence
indicates a fluvial and continental, rather than a marine environment,
as would be expected for a whale or whale-like creature. It is highly
significant that the auditory mechanism of Pakicetus was that of a land
mammal, rather than that of a whale, since there is no evidence that it
could hear directly under water, nor is there any evidence of
vascularization of the middle ear to maintain pressure during diving.
The authors stated that the teeth resemble those of the mesonychids,
which possibly fed on carrion, mollusks, or tough vegetable matter. On
the basis of this evidence, the idea was challenged that Pakicetus was
anything other than a land mammal with no relationship to marine
The latest claim concerning the possible discovery of a link between
land mammals and marine mammals was contained in an article published in
January 1994, in _Science_. The article served as a basis, once
again, for newspaper headlines throughout the U.S. For example, the
_Cleveland Plain Dealer_ featured the report in an article published in
that paper January 16, 1994, with the bold headline, "Fossil Thought to
Belong to Walking Whale -- Creature May Be Missing Link." Since whales
don't walk on land, skeptics would immediately question the basis for
designating this creature a whale, whatever it may have been. As a
matter of fact, in a commentary published in the same issue of _Science_
as the original scientific report, the writer states, "The authors
provide some evidence for the seemingly preposterous conclusion that
archaic whales were capable of walking on land. The investigators
gave their find the name Ambulocetus natans, from ambulare (to walk),
cetus (whale), and natans (swimming). They thus believe that this
creature both walked on land and swam in the water. In their report,
the authors state: "Unlike modern cetaceans, Ambulocetus certainly was
able to walk on land, probably in a way similar to modern sea lions or
fur seals. In water, it combined aspects of the locomotion of modern
seals, otters, and cetaceans.... As such, Ambulocetus represents a
critical intermediate between land mammals and marine cetaceans."
It is reported that Hans Thewissen, an assistant professor of anatomy
at Northeastern Ohio Medical School; Tasseer Hussain, professor of
anatomy at Howard University; and M. Arif, a geologist of the Geological
Survey of Pakistan, happened upon the fossil during a 1992 dig in hills
west of Islamabad, Pakistan. _The Plain Dealer_, along with its
article, has a good picture of the fossil. When some of the ICR staff
looked at the picture with the knowledge that Thewissen and fellow
workers called this creature a whale, they laughed. Evolutionists may
claim that this was because of ignorance of subtle distinctions of
anatomy; on the other hand, associating the word "whale" with a creature
with large and powerful front and hind legs does seem a bit ludicrous to
skeptics. In their _Science_ article, Thewissen and co-workers state
that Ambulocetus was about the size of a male sea lion, weighing about
650 lbs. and had a robust radius and ulna (the two bones in the upper
forearm). They report that the structure of the forearm would have
allowed powerful elbow extension by triceps, and that, unlike modern
cetaceans, elbow, wrist, and digital joints were flexible and synovial
(lubricated). The hand was long and broad, with five digits. The femur
was short and stout, and the feet were enormous. The toes were
terminated by a short phalanx carrying a convex hoof. They suggest that
unlike modern cetaceans, Ambulocetus had a long tail, and that it
probably did not possess flukes.
The authors state, "Unlike modern cetaceans, Ambulocetus certainly
was able to walk on land, probably in a way similar to modern sea lions
or fur seals. In water, it combined aspects of the locomotion of modern
seals, otters, and cetaceans: Like modern cetaceans, it swam by moving
its spine up and down; but like seals, the main propulsive surface was
provided by its feet." One wonders what in the world a whale was
doing with hind limbs that terminated in a foot with hooves, or with any
kind of powerful forelimbs and hind limbs at all.
It is reported that the fossil of Ambulocetus was found in a silt and
mudstone bed which contained impressions of leaves and abundant
Turritella, a marine gastropod. This would suggest that it lived
near the seashore, feeding possibly on land animals and/or plants, and
perhaps foraging into shallow seas to feed on gastropods and molluscs.
They report that the fossil beds are lower-to-middle Eocene beds, and
about 120 meters (approximately 390 feet) higher than those in which
Pakicetus was found. Berta, in her comments on the paper by Thewissen,
et al, gives an age of 52 million years for the sediments in Pakistan
where Ambulocetus was found. Thewissen and his co-workers in their
paper mention an age of 52 million years for the age of Pakicetus, which
they refer to as the "oldest cetacean." Ambulocetus, bearing large
forelimbs and hooved hind limbs, was found in strata nearly 400 feet
higher than Pakicetus. It therefore cannot be older. Pakicetus is
called the oldest cetacean. Yet it is said that Ambulocetus documents
transitional modes of locomotion in the evolution of whales. Confused?
So are we. It is reported that the teeth resemble those of other
archeocetes which evolutionists believe were either archaic whales or
ancestral to whales. The teeth of archeocetes are, however, so similar
to mesonychid ungulates, believed to be wolf-like carnivorous mammals,
that two of the archeocetes, Gandakasia and Ichthylestes, known only
from teeth, were originally classified as mesonychids.
G. A. Mchedlidze, a Russian expert on whales, while maintaining that
Archeoceti occupy an intermediate position between terrestrial mammals
and typical Cetacea, states that the problem of the phylogenetic
relationship between Archeoceti and modern Cetacea is a highly
controversial issue. He reports that a number of authors consider that
the Archeoceti is a completely isolated group having nothing in common
with typical Cetacea. If this opinion is correct, then the
archeocetes, supposedly archaic whales, were not whales at all and did
not give rise to whales (cetaceans).
A search of texts on mammals for fossils of creatures resembling
Ambulocetus failed to produce one closely resembling Ambulocetus,
although Allodesmus, an extinct aquatic carnivore believed to have
preceded walruses, bears some resemblance.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that Thewissen and co-workers
would dare to call Ambulocetus a "whale" when we note the fact that
Robert Carroll, in his voluminous tome, _Vertebrate Paleontology and
Evolution_, made the incredible statement that "Despite the extreme
difference in habitus, it is logical from the standpoint of phylogenetic
classification to include the mesonychids among the Cetacea."
Incredible, indeed! The mesonychids were wolf-like, hoofed carnivores
that, as far as anyone knows, never went near the water. Carroll
states, "Mesonyx was the size and proportions of a wolf and, perhaps,
had a similar way of life." Carroll and others believe that the
skull shape and the dentition of what they think were early whales
resembled mesonychids. They therefore have adopted the mesonychids as
the land mammal from which whales evolved. Now Carroll suggests we
place the mesonychids in the Cetacea. Presto! These wolf-like animals
are now whales! Who says evolutionists have no transitional forms?
What may we conclude from all of this? Most evolutionists, certain
that whales and other aquatic mammals must have evolved from land
mammals, would stretch their imagination to whatever extent necessary to
declare that Ambulocetus, a creature with powerful forelimbs and hind
limbs (the latter bearing hooves), unable to dive to any significant
depth or to hear directionally under water, was nevertheless, a whale.
On the other hand, not biased by any such presupposition, we conclude
that, first of all, it is ridiculous to call the creature a whale, and
secondly, that it was certainly not an intermediate between a land
mammal and a whale, but was more likely a near-shore carnivore whose
exact behavior and habitus is as yet a topic only for speculation.
When we consider these profound proclamations by evolutionists we
should bear in mind that they were equally convinced when they suggested
human evolutionary ancestors, such as Ramapithecus, now recognized to be
essentially the same as a modern orangutan; Piltdown Man, a fraud that
was nothing more than the jawbone of a modern ape and a human skull;
Nebraska Man, that turned out to be a pig's tooth; and Neanderthal Man,
a supposed primitive subhuman that is now recognized by most
paleoanthropologists as fully human, Homo sapiens, who suffered from
pathological conditions, such as arthritis and rickets, a vitamin D
deficiency. If evolutionists can get an evolutionary ancestor of man
from nothing more than a pig's tooth, it should be no challenge to get a
whale from a creature that walked on land.
1. A. S. Romer, _Vertebrate Paleontology_, 3rd. Edition, Chicago
University Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 254.
2. E. C. Olson, _The Evolution of Life_, New American Library, New
York, 1965, p. 178.
3. E. H. Colbert, _Evolution of the Vertebrates_, John Wiley and Sons,
New York, 1955, p. 303.
4. P. D. Gingerich, N. A. Wells, D. E. Russell, and S. M. Ibrahim Shah,
_Science_ 220:403-406 (1983).
5. D. T. Gish, _Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record_, Master
Books, Colorado Springs, 1985, pp. 79-81.
6. J. G. M. Thewissen, S. T. Hussain, and M. Arif, _Science_,
7. Annalisa Berta, _Science_ 263:180 (1994).
8. J. G. M. Thewissen, et al, ibid., p. 212.
9. G. A. Mchedlidze, _General Features of the Paleobiological Evolution
of Cetacea (translated from the Russian), A. A. Balkema, Rotterdam,
1986, p. 91.
10. R. L. Carroll, _Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution_, W. H.
Freeman and Co., New York, 1988, p.483.
11. R. L. Carroll, ibid., p. 521.
12. R. L. Carroll, ibid., p. 520.
This "Impact" was converted to ASCII, for BBS use,
from the original formatted desktop article.
Comments regarding typographical errors
in the above material are appreciated.
Don Barber, ICR Systems Administrator
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