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Dragons of the Deep: Ocean monsters past and present
by Carl Wieland

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Feedback archiveFeedback 2008

Photo stockxpert

A cow standing in shallow surf at the beach.

Mulling a sea change?

Ancient mutant Jamaican sea cows?

This week we feature some encouraging feedback from Leaton Jay of New South Wales, Australia, who also asks a question about alleged legs on fossil Jamaican sea cows. Sea cows are also known as manatees, dugongs or sirenians. Andrew Lamb replies.

First let me say how much I appreciate your website, and I ask God to bless you all and your works daily. I first came to Christ in 1993 after 60 years of militant atheism, but my uncritical acceptance of evolutionary theory was a sticking point until I came across your website. May God bless you all!

my uncritical acceptance of evolutionary theory was a sticking point until I came across your website

Recently I was browsing the Talkorigins.org website, in particular an article by Douglas Theobald PHD, entitled “29 + Evidences For Macroevolution”, in which he writes of a fossil found in Jamaica recently, which is claimed to be a transition from a four legged land mammal to a sea cow. If this claim were true it would be a stunning example of a transitional form indeed, for an accompanying photograph of the almost complete fossil shows an (obviously) terrestrial creature about two metres long with four legs and a long thin tail. No doubts about that. As Dr Theobald quotes the definition of Sirenia as being aquatic mammals with foreflippers, a tail flipper and no hindquarters, and as this is none of these, there must be some other reason why this fossil has been classified as “Pezosiren Portelli”, but I am not qualified or experienced to see why, and Dr. Theobald does not elaborate, except to call it “a sea cow with legs”. The shape of the head of living sea cows is very distinctive, looking almost human. So is it the fossil’s skull? I cannot tell.

I have searched your website for a treatment on this fossil, but have found nothing, so I would very much appreciate your comments.

Thank you, and please keep up the good work.

Leaton Jay

Dear Leaton

First let me say how much I appreciate your website, and I ask God to bless you all and your works daily.

Thanks so much for your encouraging words of support. There is a lot of work involved in producing daily articles for our website, and it is very gratifying to hear it has blessed people like yourself.

We encourage supporters to help by sharing links to CMI articles with friends and on internet forums. This generates a higher search engine ranking and therefore more people will find our articles, and hence there will be more feedback (and hence more articles Smiley).

I first came to Christ in 1993 after 60 years of militant atheism, but my uncritical acceptance of evolutionary theory was a sticking point until I came across your website. May God bless you all!

Photo wikipedia

A sea cow and calf swimming underwater

A sea cow and calf.

We can appreciate how evolution was a stumbling block to your faith. The role of evolution in hindering faith is well understood by creation evangelists, but sadly is still denied by many in the church—see Facing the issue. Let’s hope that church leaders who think it is not an issue will read of your experience to the contrary.

Recently I was browsing the Talkorigins website

To browse Talkorigins material safely requires a high level of discernment because the site contains a very high level of falsehood. For one example, see Evolution by fiat and faith. Worse, it often contains correct facts that are presented in such a way as to deliberately mislead—for an example see Human tails and fairy tales. Their false claims are presented with a scholarly air of authority that can easily seduce the unwary, and the information they present is often difficult to double-check as to its accuracy.

in particular an article by Douglas Theobald PHD, entitled “29 + Evidences For Macroevolution”, in which he writes of a fossil found in Jamaica recently, which is claimed to be a transition from a four legged land mammal to a sea cow.

Mosaic creatures

Animals that combine features typical of different classes of organism are referred to as mosaics. The platypus and Archaeopteryx are two classic examples of mosaic creatures.

CMI have published articles on several aquatic creatures that could qualify as mosaic. One example is Acanthostega. Some evolutionists have touted it as a fish-to-amphibian transitional form, but experts regard Acanthostega as a mosaic, and quotes to this effect can be found in the section ‘No! A mosaic tetrapod’ in our article Yet another missing link fails to qualify!

Another alleged fish-to-amphibian link, Livoniana, could also be considered a mosaic. See Livoniana—have they (finally!) found a missing link? The relevant paragraph reads:

It is probable that if more data about Livoniana becomes available, scientists will either conclude that it was definitely a fish or definitely a tetrapod. Even if it does turn out to be a ‘mosaic’ creature like the platypus, which contains features which are typical of various different classes of animals but which are not usually found together in one organism, this does not indicate evolution. … Creation is a valid, and far more logical and reasonable, explanation for such creatures.

See also the section ‘Feathers’ in Living dinosaurs or just birds? This section concludes:

A feathered dinosaur (if that were ever demonstrated) would be just another mosaic creature in God’s amazing creation.

And see especially the section ‘Mosaic rather than transitional’ in Tiktaalik—a fishy missing link.

This Jamaican ‘legged sea cow’ claim was made in 2001 in the journal Nature by a paleontologist named Daryl Domning, based on some bones he found 15 km from Montego Bay.1 National Geographic News also promoted Domning’s claim.2 Both Nature and National Geographic are notorious for their hostility to creation and their promotion of evolutionary frauds and myths. For example National Geographic foisted the Archaeoraptor hoax upon the world, and Nature is forever announcing new transitional forms (recent examples include Gogonasus and Gigantoraptor), none of which hold up under critical scrutiny. By the way, the Theobald ‘Macroevolution’ article is an example of the informal fallacy of ‘elephant hurling’, where someone presents a seemingly long list of evidences, without proper evaluation of each one, in the hope that the reader will be ‘snowed’ and not bother to check each one for validity.

If this claim were true it would be a stunning example of a transitional form indeed,

Actually, no. If an animal truly existed that had a sea cow head and chest but had the legs of a land animal instead of flippers, it would be an example of a mosaic creature (see box).

If an animal truly existed that looked like a sea cow but had legs instead of flippers, it would be an example of a mosaic creature

Yes, a transitional form (whether from quadruped to sea cow, ape to man, or any kind of organism into a different kind) would indeed be stunning. However, no indisputable example of a transitional form has ever been established (as even one leading evolutionist admitted). There are always a few dubious claims current in the evolutionary literature, but each ‘transitional’ claim is inevitably discarded as more information about the creature comes to light (and as newer, not-yet-discredited examples became available to replace them!) In fact, we know from the Bible (backed up by the well-established laws of chemistry, information, probability and thermodynamics) that such transitions, from one kind of creature into a new kind that did not exist before, are impossible.

for an accompanying photograph of the almost complete fossil shows an (obviously) terrestrial creature about two metres long with four legs and a long thin tail. No doubts about that.

The bones pulled together by Daryl Domning to construct what he named Pezosiren portelli came from five separate bone beds within the five-metre thick Guys Hill Member stratum of rock in Jamaica. (Note, in evolutionary thinking, those five metres would represent several million years worth of accumulated sediments.) Some of the bones were found by themselves and some as partial skeletons. The stratum in question has yielded many hundreds of bones, including those of a rhinoceros (Hyrachyrus),3 a lizard,4 a crocodile (Charactosuchus kugleri),5 a turtle,5 sea cows (‘abundant remains of sirenians’1 ), and possibly a primate,6 along with lots of invertebrate marine fossils (mollusks, etc.).7

According to the Nature paper, some of the bones Domning used (the skull and ribs) have features typical of sea-cow bones8, while others (the vertebrae, pelvis, and limb bones) have features typical of hoofed land animals.9 It seems quite likely to me that in constructing his ‘legged sea-cow’, Domning combined bones from different kinds of creature. Remember that bones of both land animals and ordinary sea cows have been found in the Guys Hill Member bone beds. Evolutionary paleontologists like Domning would do well to heed the old saying ‘When you hear hoofbeats in the night, think horses, not unicorns’ and apply it to their reconstructions, i.e. when you find sea cow and quadruped bones, think sea cows and quadrupeds, not mystery new organisms. This scientific principle is formally known as Occam’s razor.

Photo Nature

Some of the bones Domning found.

Some of the bones.

Photo Nature

The ‘legged sea cow’ skeleton Domning constructed.

The ‘legged sea cow’ skeleton Domning constructed.

Domning neglected to include in his Nature paper photos of most of the bones, including the skull or skull fragments (excepting part of the right jaw). Here is the single photo of bones that appears in his paper, plus the constructed skeleton. I say ‘constructed’ instead of ‘reconstructed’ because reconstruction would imply previous existence, whereas this incongruous combination of bones is probably purely the product of Domning’s artistic talents, rather than the remains of a true species that once lived.

As Dr Theobald quotes the definition of Sirenia as being aquatic mammals with foreflippers, a tail flipper and no hindquarters, and as this is none of these, there must be some other reason why this fossil has been classified as “Pezosiren Portelli”, but I am not qualified or experienced to see why, and Dr. Theobald does not elaborate, except to call it “a sea cow with legs”. The shape of the head of living sea cows is very distinctive, looking almost human. So is it the fossil’s skull? I cannot tell.

Domning undertook to combine scattered sea cow and quadruped bones to concoct his legged sea cow.

Yes, sea cow skulls and ribs have some distinctive features. The desire for the glory and prestige that comes with ‘discovering’ a new transitional form was possibly a motivating factor when Domning undertook to combine scattered sea cow and quadruped bones to concoct his legged sea cow. Another powerful factor motivating some scientists to build ‘golden calves’ of this sort is the need for evidence to support their belief in evolution.

Tellingly, the putative legged Jamaican sea cow has not become a showcase evidence featured in school textbooks and trumpeted in the media. Rather, it has been quietly forgotten by sober academia, and is hardly mentioned outside of extremist evolutionist sites like TalkOrigins. This lack of support is a good indication that, even in the opinion of the pro-evolution academic establishment, this ‘mutant’ Jamaican sea cow doesn’t have an academic leg to stand on.

I have searched your website for a treatment on this fossil, but have found nothing, so I would very much appreciate your comments.

Composite image

A teenage mutant ninja turtle relaxing under a coconut tree at the beach.

Another transitional form in Jamaica?

Hopefully this article will serve to rectify that lack for future Jamaican sea cow seekers.

Thank you, and please keep up the good work.

Leaton Jay

And thank you again Leaton, for your encouraging feedback, and interesting enquiry.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Lamb

Recommended Resources


References

  1. Daryl Domning, The earliest known fully quadrupedal sirenian, Nature 413(6856):625–627, 11 October 2001, <http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v413/n6856/
    abs/413625a0.html
    >. Return to text.
  2. Hillary Mayell, Legged Sea Cow Fossil Found in Jamaica, National Geographic News, 10 October 2001, <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/10/
    1010_jamaicaseacow.html
    >. Return to text.
  3. Domning, et al., Oldest West Indian land mammal: rhinocerotoid ungulate from the Eocene of Jamaica, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 17(4):638–641, December 1997. Return to text.
  4. Pregill, G.K., Eocene lizard from Jamaica, Herpetologica 55(2):157–161, June 1999. Return to text.
  5. Donovan, S.K., et al., A bone bed in the Eocene of Jamaica, Journal of Paleontology 64(4):660–662, July 1990. Return to text.
  6. MacPhee, et al., Eocene ?primate petrosal from Jamaica: morphology and biogeographical implications, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 19(Supplement to Number 3):61A, 14 September 1999. Return to text.
  7. Crume, M.A. and Fluegeman, R.H., Benthic foraminifera from the Chapelton Formation (Eocene; Lutetian) at the Seven Rivers site, west-central Jamaica, Abstracts 39(3):10, Geological Society of America, April 2007. Return to text.
  8. Ref. 1. ‘The skull is of clearly sirenian form’; ‘The ribs are swollen (pachyostotic) and composed wholly of dense bone (osteosclerotic), as in other sirenians’. Return to text.
  9. Ref. 1. ‘The axis and other corvical vertebrae grossly resemble those of Palaeocene condylarths such as Ectoconus’; ‘The pelvis … is long and narrow … resembling those of primitive land mammals’; ‘The tibia … greatly resembles those of Ectoconus or other primitive ungulates’; ‘These bones [foot bones] are short and flattened like those of terrestrial ungulates, and show no signs of paddle-like elongation’. Return to text.
Published: 7 June 2008(GMT+10)

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