When most fossils consist of small shelly creatures, finding a whale is indeed big news. Two whale fossil discoveries on opposite sides of the world are spectacular and puzzling. Do they support the theory that whales evolved from land mammals?
Aye: Egyptian Whales: PhysOrg announced triumphantly, “Whale fossils show important characters of the transition to water.” Easier said than proved. Limestone plates quarried in Egypt were found to bear fossils of Aegyptocetus tarfa, a putative whale transitional form. Owen Gingerich [U of Michigan] is usually nearby wherever whale-evolution fossils are found, and this was no exception. He said this species, alleged to be 40 million years old, “falls right in the middle of what we know about the evolutionary transition of whales from land to sea.” In what ways? “The transitional characters present in this species include a retained sense of smell (which is usually lost in aquatic mammal lineages), an enhanced ability to hear (a characteristic of later and modern whales), and the ability to still haul itself out of the water, similar to modern seals.” The holotype was discovered and named by Gingerich. Wikipedia says Aegyptocetus is classified under Protocediae, “a diverse and heterogeneous group of cetaceans known from Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America.” How these diverse fossils relate to one another, let alone to whales, is not clear from the limited write-up on this genus. The article said nothing about how such a large mammal got buried in fine limestone.
Nay: Chilean Whales: Watch a one-minute video clip on the BBC News about a spectacular assemblage of fossil whales being uncovered in Chile. Dozens are expected in this fossil graveyard. The workers exceeded expectations by finding 15 whales in 15 days. Remains of sharks, dolphins and seals have also been found, with many of the skeletons intact and complete. Paleontologist Sol Square calls this a “discovery of global importance. There’s never been a find of this size or this diversity anywhere in the world.” That boast, though, seems overshadowed by a discovery announced in Geology in 2004 of 346 whale fossils buried in diatomaceous earth (see 2/02/2004). That discovery was published by creation geologists who believe a global flood was responsible for their burial….
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