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80 whales buried mysteriously in Chilean desert

Marine graveyard is evidence for Noah’s Flood


First published: 1 December 2011 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 28 April 2021 (GMT+10)
Image from Daily Mail3
Figure 1. A complete fossil whale skeleton in the Chilean desert.

Researchers from the USA and Chile reported, in November 2011, a remarkable bone bed on the west coast of northern Chile near the port city of Caldera, about 700 kilometres (440 miles) north of the capital, Santiago.1 Excavations uncovered the remains of some 80 baleen whales of which more than 20 specimens were complete (figure 1).2 They also found other kinds of marine mammals including an extinct dolphin with tusks and a sperm whale.3

The previous year, construction workers upgrading the Pan-American Highway discovered the fossil site in a road cut just north of Caldera. Since then, teams of scientists led by palaeontologist Nick Pyenson4 from the Smithsonian Institute and Mario Suarez from the nearby Museo Paleontologico de Caldera5 have been working to excavate the fossils while the road works were temporarily suspended.

The fossils alongside the highway are confined to a sandstone ridge about 20 metres (70 feet) wide and 240 metres (800 feet) long (figure 2). Most whales were about 8 metres (25 feet) long, and perfectly preserved. Some whales were so close together that they overlapped one another (figure 3). The site in a corner of the Atacama Desert is now well above sea level and over a kilometre from the shore. Suarez said it was well known that whale bones jutted out of the ridge, which was given the name Cerro Ballena, or Whale Hill.6

Figure 2. Photo illustrates the extent and thickness of the outcrop containing the whale fossils. Larger cobbles and pebbles are seen at the base of the outcrop behind the person crouching, and on the top of the cut on the other side of the road. Coarser lenses, possibly of pebbles or shells, are visible in the embankment behind the man. Image from Daily Mail.3 Click for larger image.
Figure 3. Whales overlapping one another. Image from io913

Paleontologists were thrilled to find the treasure trove, describing it as “very unusual”. Pyenson thinks the whales all died “more or less at the same time” after they were trapped in a lagoon. Others suggest they became disoriented and beached themselves. Paleontologist Erich Fitzgerald from Museum Victoria in Australia said it’s possible the remains accumulated over thousands of years. Whale expert Hans Thewissen from Northeast Ohio Medical University thought the whales might have gathered in a lagoon and been stranded by an earthquake or storm. After the connection to the ocean closed, the lagoon dried up and the whales died.

The puzzle of how these marine creatures died has caught news headlines with one reporting “Fossil Bonanza Poses Mystery”. Another asked, “How did 75 whales end up in the desert?”

Interestingly, some of those posting comments on these news reports suggested the creatures perished in Noah’s Flood. Robert Raeburn of Western Australia said, “The whales probably swam there when the whole world was covered in water, about 4000 years ago at the time of Noah. They would then have been stranded when the waters assuaged (drained back) to expose the dry land. … This all makes sense when viewed from a ‘Bible’ perspective.” An email friend suggested the same to Mario Suarez, one of the lead paleontologists. Not surprisingly, this idea generated a deal of web comments.

What stops people making the obvious connection between these fossils and Noah’s Flood? It’s the million-year ages assigned to the fossils.

The field evidence for large-scale catastrophe is overwhelming as these research scientists have reported. What stops people making the obvious connection between these fossils and Noah’s Flood? It’s the million-year ages assigned to the fossils. On one comments thread Holly from the USA responded to the Noah’s Flood idea with, “Nothing from the Bible perspective makes sense, since 4,000 years ago that area wasn’t covered with water. However it was about 2 million years ago.”

But the 2-million-year-figure is the number paleontologists gave for the age of the fossils. Actually, they said the whales probably died between 2 million and 7 million years ago—that is early Pliocene to early Miocene (according to the International Stratigraphic Chart7). But where did they get those ages from?

Figure 4. Late Cenozoic sedimentary basins on the west coast of northern Chile. From Feldmann et al.11  Click for larger image

First, they assign the ‘series’ and ‘stage’ by the field relationships among the strata and according to the fossils found therein.8 At this site they said that the fossil dating is complicated and probably not sufficiently precise to determine if the whales all died at the same time. Second, once the series and stage has been decided they simply read the ‘age’ in millions of years off the chart.

Figure 5. Immense boulder conglomerate toward the base of the Caldera basin indicating the high energy processes associated with the early sediment fill. Boulder deposits such as this have been connected with the receding waters of Noah’s Flood.14 Image from Pyenson Lab15 

But how were the numbers determined for the chart? By agreement of an international committee which bases its thinking on the geological philosophy of uniformitarianism—a philosophy that only allows slow and gradual processes as explanations, or local catastrophes at the very largest.9 In other words, uniformitarian geologists are quite comfortable to hypothesise a storm, earthquake or tsunami, but not the global Flood.

On the other hand, drawing on multiple lines of evidence, biblical geologists consider the Flood a real event in history and the fossil layers to have been deposited mostly during this event. The Flood washes away the millions of years because it falsifies the assumptions on which the million-year ages are based. Most biblical geologists would accept that the standard geological column represents the general order of deposition during the Flood, with some of the uppermost parts of the column being deposited in the 4,300-year period afterwards.10

The sandstone strata containing the whale fossils are contained within a local area called the Caldera basin (figure 4).11

Similar localised basins are found at a number of places along the western coast of Chile. Although the basins are relatively small for Flood deposits, the characteristics of the sediments in these basins (figures 2 and 5) and the abundant fossils contained in them indicate that deposition took place during a period of rapid and major coastal subsidence.12 Coastal subsidence of this nature is exactly what we would expect in the second part of the Flood when the ocean basins sank, the continents rose and the floodwaters flowed into the ocean. And major coastal subsidence explains the rapid burial of the whales and other creatures because rapid burial was needed soon after death to preserve the fossils. After the ocean basins had mostly subsided and the waters had almost completely drained from the land, the whales and other animals that perished in the catastrophe were buried—toward the end of Noah’s Flood. As Robert Raeburn commented on one of the web news reports, the mystery disappears when we interpret the rocks and the fossils from a Bible perspective.

References and notes

  1. Bhattacharya, A., Chilean desert yields trove of whale fossils, , blogs.nature.com, 18 November 2011. Return to text.
  2. Gramling, C., Researchers Rush to Recover Whale Fossils From Highway Project, news.sciencemag.org, 18 November 2011. Return to text.
  3. How did 75 whales end up in the desert? Rows of prehistoric bones unearthed in one of the most significant discoveries of its kind, dailymail.co.uk, 21 November 2011. Return to text.
  4. Pyenson Lab, Oct 2011 and Nov 2011 posts, nmnh.typepad.com. Return to text.
  5. Museo Paleontologico de Caldera, cepchile-paleontologia.es.tl. Return to text.
  6. Vergara, E. and James, I., Whales In The Desert: Fossil Bonanza Poses Mystery, huffingtonpost.com, 19 November 2011. Return to text.
  7. International Stratigraphic Chart, stratigraphy.org. Return to text.
  8. See for example: Walsh, S.A. and Suarez, M.E., New penguin remains from the Pliocene of Northern Chile, Historical Biology 18(2):115–126, 2006; p. 117 for a description of how ages are assigned to sedimentary strata. Return to text.
  9. Murphy, M.A. and Salvador, A. (Eds.), International Stratigraphic Guide—An abridged version, International Subcommission on Stratigraphic Classification of IUGS, International Commission on Stratigraphy, Chapter 2. Principles of Stratigraphic Classification, stratigraphy.org. Return to text.
  10. Oard, M.J., The geological column is a general Flood order with many exceptions, J. Creation 24(2):78–82, 2010. Return to text.
  11. Feldmann, R.M., Schweitzer, C.E., Encinas, A., Neogene decapods crustacean from Southern Chile, Annals of Carnegie Museum 78(4):337–366, 2010. Return to text.
  12. Encinas, A., Finger, K.L., Nielsen, S.N., Lavenu, A., Buatois, L.A., Peterson, D.E. and Le Roux, J.P., Rapid and major coastal subsidence during the late Miocene in south-central Chile, Journal of South American Earth Sciences 25:157–175, 2008. Return to text.
  13. What are the fossilized remains of more than 80 whales doing in the driest desert on Earth?, io9.com. Return to text.
  14. Oard, M.J., Hergenrather, J. and Klevberg, P., Flood transported quartzites—east of the Rocky Mountains, J. Creation 19(3):76–90, 2005. Return to text.
  15. From Pyenson Lab, Dispatch 7: Walking outcrop, measuring section, nmnh.typepad.com, 6 October 2010. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Rock Solid Answers
by Michael J Oard, John K Reed
US $20.00
Soft Cover
The Fossil Record
by John D Morris, Frank J Sherwin
US $20.00
Hard Cover
Contested Bones
by Christopher Rupe, Dr. John Sanford
US $24.00
Soft Cover
The Geologic Column
by John K Reed, Michael J Oard
US $15.00
Soft Cover
Geology by Design
by Carl R Froede Jr
US $15.00
Soft Cover
Earth's Catastrophic Past
by Andrew A Snelling
US $60.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Bill P.
Google "pics of Titanic debris field," taken ~100 years after sinking. You will see shoes and clothes, but no flesh or bones, proving rapid burial is required for fossilization. Google "dinosaur fossils world map" and see fossilized dino bones are on every continent => many local floods or one global flood.

The Herrin Coal seam of Illinois, USA has 3 thin partings: upper parting averages 3 mm thick, middle averages 2.5 to 7.6 cm, lower avg 1.3 cm. H. R. Wanless: “These 3 partings are traceable through a belt ranging from 900 km in linear distance northwest-southeast from north central Iowa to western Kentucky and 700 km northeast-southwest from central western Indiana to eastern Kansas. A principal problem to explain in any case is how the forest vegetation of a swamp could be so completely levelled as to permit accumulation of a continuous layer of clay averaging an inch or so [2 or 3 cm] in thickness." (Wanless, H.R.,1952. Studies of field relationships of coal beds. In: Second Conference on the Origin and Constitution of Coal, 165) Partings, found in banded bituminous coal around the world, disprove the swamp model for coal formation; only a floating mat will work. Google "coal deposits world map." Looks similar to the dino-fossil world map.

We see that dino (and whale) fossils require rapid burial, and the formation of coal requires flood conditions. Hmmmm, two "principal problems" solved with a single global flood or hundreds, if not thousands, of local floods. Ockham's Razor would favor the Biblical model.

... they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false. 2 Thessalonians 2:10b-11.
Thomas R.
What was the state of preservation of the bones?
Were they completely permineralized?
Or were they all or partially still original bone?
Tas Walker
From the reports I have checked on this find, I do not recall seeing an answer to your question. It is clear, though, that the preservation of the fossils is remarkably good. It is not uncommon for original bone material to be preserved in situations like this. However, to be definitive, you would need to search for academic papers on this, such as those including the name of Pyenson. I located one by The royal Society, but it did not report on the state of preservation.
Nathan G.
Dear Alexander B.
Forget allegedly "correct" dating methods for one moment. Let's look at one brute fact: some geological layers are thousands of miles wide or long and can be traced across multiple continents. Current, observable erosion rates would have worn down any fossil-bearing layers in those layers in much less time (circa 60 million years) than evolutionists assign to them as their "ages". Even with mountain-building geological events, the complete sandpapering away of "ancient" layers would still be a fact, based on current, observed rates of erosion. How do you answer this?
Addressing your ass-umption of "ignorant goat herders" in your text from another direction, how can you answer the statement found in Job 38:31? Even secular researchers believe Job to be one of the oldest books in the Bible, ergo it must be one of the most scientifically incorrect, according to your "primitive goat herder" idea. But "real" scientists did not discover that the Pleiades and the stars in Orion's belt were composed of bound and unbound clusters, respectively, until only a few decades ago. How does that jive with your idea that science (a discipline arising in the Christian church) is always correct and religion is just folk stories? By this definition, the stories had it right millenia before "science" came along. And the construction of pyramids on all continents except Antarctica kind of excludes the idea of primitive, idiotic man, don't you think, since we can't build them without machines?
Lastly, how do you respond to soft tissues, DNA, collagen, etc. in fossils? Doesn't the response "We can't explain it." or "Give us more time!" belong to the category of religion? Belief without observable, testable, repeatable evidence seems to be a staple of evolution. Sorry.
Ed L.
Interesting. How many finds around the whole world date exactly the same (flood) vs how many fossilized find do not match that date. The would prove or disprove this interesting theory.
Tas Walker
Hi Ed, You seem interested in what you have read. I would encourage you to read more. It's a whole new way of looking at the world and interpreting the various things we see. It's important to realise that the 'dates' you see are based on the evolutionary long-age philosophy and not objective facts. We interpret the same evidence but using a different framework. Here is some information that may help make it clear: Ask the right question, Refuting evolution, and the geology transformation tool.
Alexander B.
All the writers of the Bible lived in the middle east. That was the extent of their understanding of the natural world and the frame of reference they had for what they wrote. No doubt, some catastrophic flood occured in that region thousands of years ago, millions of years after these particulat whales died, which gave rise to the references to Noah and the Great Flood in the Bible. Given our greater knowledge of the entire planet today, it is pure unadulterated nonsense to think this account of an event occured at a global scale. Anyone who tries to square the Bible with the now understood natural history of Earth is doing nothing but making a public fool of themself. Science is science. Religion is religion. Never the two should meet.
Shaun Doyle
The irony is that you've tried to do precisely what you said anyone would make a fool of himself to even try. How? You tried to square the Bible's depiction of Noah's Flood with an actual catastrophic flooding event in the past. You castigate us for doing the same thing! While we disagree on what sort of event Genesis 6-9 refers to, the fact is we both think it refers to a real event in the past. And of course you're willing to let the Bible speak to the past as far as it can speak consistently with deep time, whereas we think the Bible is data independent of (and foundational to understanding) the physical data. Nonetheless, if 'science' and 'religion' should never meet, why on earth would you even suggest that anything in the Bible corresponds to a real past, even if only 'through a glass darkly'? Either the Bible is pure myth, or there is some level of attempted correspondence between its claims and the real world. You can't have it both ways.

And of course Christianity has always affirmed the latter; the clearest case being Jesus' resurrection. Science says dead people don't come back from the dead, especially a couple of days after having been crucified! And yet, Christianity stands or falls on God making an exception to that scientific rule in the case of Jesus. Science and religion do indeed meet and mingle. You can't avoid it.
Michael N.
In the article I was looking for mention if these supposed “2-7myo” fossils of baleen whales are the same species of baleen whale that exists today? And if so, how do the paleontologists explain the lack to further evolutionary development?
Michael B.
The list of "mysteriously stranded whales" keeps growing as does the stories materialist have to create to account for them.
The ones in Egypt are the first I remember reading of at Wadi El Hitan (Valley of Whales) about 100 miles from the pyramids at Giza.
Martyn M.
Since marine fossils are found on tops of mountains, couldn’t this also have been a ocean burial event with the deposit pushed up with continental movement? Rather than a land lagoon and burial event?
Tas Walker
Yes. That is what the article says. Last paragraph: "Coastal subsidence of this nature is exactly what we would expect in the second part of the Flood when the ocean basins sank, the continents rose and the floodwaters flowed into the ocean." Not a lagoon burial.
Col M.
Hey Tas, if it was millions of years ago, couldn't the whales have walked there :-) Or hadn't whales learned to walk yet? I forget which way the evolution story goes. And no, I'm not serious!
A. O.
This is pretty legit that they are finding these things that support the flood theory. It would make no sense in the realm of millions of years. I mean, how the heck would these whales fossilize if it were not for rapid burial?
Peter D.
Very exciting! I myself found a number of clam shells about 4-5 feet below ground level when digging a trench for an electrical cable, about 100’ above the current water level of Shuswap, Lake in British Columbia, Canada.
Melvin R.
Great geological find and article solidifying Biblical accounts (proof) of Noah’s Flood. Worldwide this is common and not surprising. The spin-jocks via atheist-evolutionists will immediately have a bowel-movement of the mouth and somehow attach this to MBYB (MillionBillionYearsBufoonery, I guarantee you.
Wolf C.
This article reminds me of something similar in Western Madagascar where one finds the Tsingy de Bemaraha-a unique massive geological phenomena consisting of razor sharp rock. I often travel to Madagascar for missionary work and still burning to visit this place. A bit difficult to get there but a Christian science teacher who have been there told me that this is an ancient coral reef which is tenths of kilometers long and about 60-80 km from the coast. How come a whole coral reef so far from the sea?
To see pictures type Tsingy on Google and click Images.
Also see whc.unesco.org/en/list/494/ and eoearth.org/article/Tsingy_de_Bemaraha_Strict_Nature_Reserve,_Madagascar
Rob H.
When are these evolutionists going to get it? No animal when it dies and is exposed to the elements is going to be fossilised.
Danie P.
From when I was little I had this huge curiosity of how everything works. (I became an engineer in the end.) I however found the Biblical explanation very strange and the secular worldview as the one making the most sense. But for years it bugged me continuously as I wasn’t able to tie my Christian upbringing together with my analytical and curious mind … bottomline I ended up not really believing the Bible’s account of origins, even though I didn’t even admit it to myself! Not to mention how a loving almighty God could allow so much misery in this world, life didn’t make sense.

Luckily there are people like CMI who’s got the analytical brains and the doctrine! These days I find it so easy to explain and understand everyday life. Life and mysteries like these whales are so much easier to understand through a Biblical worldview. THANK YOU CMI!
Rae P.
It defies logical reasoning when atheists try to say there is no God. How did the heavens-the galaxies, planets, and stars get there all by themselves, by chance? How could they possibly get there without a Creator God? Anyone with half a brain should realise that. Do not the heavens and all their expanse point to a Creator God? Evolution and atheism are just used as an excuse to escape accountability for sin. If an atheist acknowledges there is a God, then he has to also acknowledge his own prideful sinful state, give up his life of sin, and confess his need of a Saviour. When it is in the natural rebellious nature of man without God to want to go on sinning and live in sin, then it is easier to deny a loving God and His existence, than own accountability for sin and truly repent. This is what REALLY lies behind atheism and evolution.
Timothy C.
If I’m not mistaken, this isn’t the only time marine fossils have been found in the middle of a land mass. Haven’t they also been found on top of mountains as well?
Tas Walker
Yes, that is true. 300 dead whales have been found in Peru. Marine fossils have been found at the top of Mt Everest.

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