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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

Walking Whales?
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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“We essentially have every stage now from a terrestrial animal to one that is fully aquatic,” stated Daryl Domning, a paleontologist at Howard University (Mayell, 2001). That declaration was made in National Geographic News on-line October 10, 2001 after a sea cow skeleton was found in Seven Rivers, Jamaica. Evolutionists contend that this latest find, an entirely new genus and species, played an important role in helping terrestrial animals make the transition from land to water. The cover of the September 21, 2001 issue of Science featured an artist’s rendition of another “walking whale” in a cover story that explored the origins of whales (see Gingerich, et al., 2001). In November 2001, National Geographic capitalized on recent discoveries using “walking whale” propaganda in an article titled “Evolution of Whales.” That article began with this photo caption: “Tiny bubbles dot the eye of a sperm whale, one of 83 cetacean species, whose past is firmly rooted on land. About 50 million years ago its ancestors first learned to swim” (Chadwick, 2001, 200[5]:64). What followed was nothing short of a major sales campaign. Twelve pages of factless speculation combined with slick pictures and artists’ conceptions were used to sell the idea that whales once walked the Earth. It appears that National Geographic has returned to a style of “sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism”—a charge previously made by Dr. Storrs Olson, the eminent curator of birds at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

In 1859, Darwin suggested that whales arose from bears, sketching a scenario in which selective pressures might cause bears to evolve into whales. But, embarrassed by criticism, he removed his hypothetical swimming bears from later editions of the Origin of Species (see Gould, 1995, p. 359). Evolutionists were unsure how to proceed, since they knew that whales were different from fish; thus, a different evolutionary account was required. Whales are warm-blooded vertebrates that regulate their internal temperature via heat generated by a high metabolism. Like most mammals (with the exception being the duck-billed platypus), female whales bear live young that are nursed by mammary glands. While adult whales are not covered in hair or fur, they do acquire body hair temporarily as fetuses. These features make whales unequivocally mammalian—a fact that poses a mountainous hurdle for evolutionists.

According to National Geographic, the ancestry time line of whales is as follows: Pakicetus (50 million years ago), Ambulocetus (49 million years ago), Rodhocetus (46.5 million years ago), Procetus (45 million years ago), Kutchicetus (43-46 million years ago), Durodon (37 million years ago), Basilosaurus (37 million years ago), Aeticetus (24-26 million years ago), Squalodon (16 million years ago), Cetotherium [early baleen whale] (15 million years ago), and Kentridon [early dolphins] (15 million years ago). While the official scientific names and the full-color reconstructions shown on pages 66-69 of the November 2001 issue of National Geographic seem impressive, the data are far from it. A closer examination of Pakicetus and Ambulocetus reveals that these creatures had little in common with modern whales, and thus do not represent the ancient ancestors of whales.

The artist’s reconstruction of Pakicetus on page 66 of the November 2001 issue of National Geographic looks very similar to a dog swimming underwater. However, the artist obviously did not take into consideration the fact that the fossil was found in an area containing fossils from terrestrial creatures such as snails. The fossil also was found in a region full of iron ore that was part of a land stratum, not an aquatic one. This “ancient ancestor” was discovered in 1983 by Philip D. Gingerich, who immediately claimed the find as a primitive whale—even though he found only a jaw and skull fragments! So what makes National Geographic so sure this creature is a long-lost “walking” ancestor to modern whales? Chadwick stated:

What causes scientists to declare the creature a whale? Subtle clues in combination—the arrangement of cups on the molar teeth, a folding in a bone of the middle ear, and the positioning of the ear bones within the skull—are absent in other land animals but a signature of later Eocene whales (2001, 200[5]:68).

So from mere dimples in teeth and folded ear bones, this animal “qualifies” as a walking whale? Interestingly, the skeletons of Pakicetus published by paleontologists in Nature do not resemble the swimming creature featured by National Geographic (see De Muizon, 2001, and Thewissen, et al., 2001). National Geographic displayed the Pakicetus in a swimming position, obviously trying to sway the reader into believing that the fossilized jawbone and skull fragments represented an aquatic creature.

The next ancestor, the Ambulocetus natans, was proposed as a whale long before the dust settled from the fossilized remains. The name itself, Ambulocetus natans, comes from the Latin words ambulare (to walk), cetus (whale), and natans (swimming), meaning quite literally a walking and swimming whale. The scientists who discovered and subsequently named this fossil cried “walking whale” prior to a complete analysis. The artist for National Geographic took a great amount of liberty in assigning webbed feet to this creature. While such feet definitely make the creature look more aquatic, it is impossible to draw any such conclusion from a study of the Ambulocetus fossils. Soft tissues (such as webbed feet) normally do not fossilize well. There is no evidence this creature ever spent any amount of time in the water—yet the picture shows an animal with rear legs that appear to be built for an aquatic environment. An examination of the actual skeleton (see Carroll, 1998, p. 335) quickly dispels the notion that the rear legs performed as obligatory fins. The legs on the Ambulocetus were not fins at all, but rather legs made for walking and supporting weight.

Another problem evolutionists silently dismiss is the pelvis of the Ambulocetus. The anatomy of a whale demonstrates a backbone that continuously descends from the “back” (vertebrae) right into the tail, without any pelvic bone. The backbone of the Ambulocetus, however, ends at a bony pelvis with powerful rear legs extending from it. How do evolutionists explain the lack of a pelvis in modern whales? In an effort to explain away this loss (as well as the absence of legs), the author of the National Geographic article used a series of drawings to illustrate this obvious absence (see Chadwick, 200[5]:72-73). However, the article contradicts itself. The caption on the last picture, a modern sperm whale, stated: “Today’s sperm whale has vestigial hind limbs,” (p. 73) and yet in the paragraph above the picture the author admitted that the bones do, in fact, have a purpose. We know these bones act “as an anchor for the muscles of the genetalia” (p. 73). Evolutionists need “leftover bones” in order to help explain away the problem of the pelvis; therefore, they choose to use these alleged “vestigial hind limbs.”

While artists make the transition appear easy, the logistics of going from a terrestrial environment to an aquatic one would be incredibly complex. Evolutionist Anthony Martin admitted: “Principally it meant developing a new mode of locomotion (from walking to swimming), a physiology to cope with a dense medium (water rather than air), new methods of detecting and catching prey, and a means of breathing efficiently at the sea surface” (1990, p. 12, parenthetical comment in orig.). Martin’s analysis does not even address the metabolic, neuronal, reproductive, and cellular changes required for animals to live underwater. Duane Gish summed it up well when he stated:

It is quite entertaining, starting with cows, pigs, or buffaloes, to attempt to visualize what the intermediates may have looked like. Starting with a cow, one could even imagine one line of descent which prematurely became extinct, due to what might be called an “udder failure” (1995, p. 198).

Udder failure indeed!


Carroll, Robert L. (1998), Patterns and Process of Vertebrate Evolution (New York: Cambridge University Press).

Chadwick, Douglas H. (2001), “Evolution of Whales,” National Geographic, 200[5]:64-77, November.

De Muizon, Christian (2001), “Walking With Whales,” Nature, 413:259-260, September 20.

Gingerich, Philip D., Munir ul Haq, et al., (2001), “Origin of Whales from Early Artiodactyls Hands and Feet of Eocene Protocetidae from Pakistan,” Science, 293:2239-2242, September 21.

Gish, Duane T. (1995), Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No! (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research).

Gould, Stephen Jay (1995), “Hooking Leviathan by its Past,” Dinosaur in a Haystack (New York: Harmony Books), pp. 359-376.

Martin, Anthony R. (1990), Whales and Dolphins (London: Bedford Editions).

Mayell, Hillary (2001), “Legged Sea Cow Fossil Found in Jamaica,” National Geographic News, October 10, [On-line] URL:

Thewissen, J.G.M., E.M. Williams, L.J. Roe, and S.T. Hussain (2001), “Skeletons of Terrestrial Cetaceans and the Relationship of Whales to Artiodactyls,” Nature, 413:277-281, September 20.

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