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Creation 37(1):38–39, January 2014

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Ichthyosaurs: evidence for a recent global flood


Photo © Staatliche Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart

Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that looked amazingly like dolphins, which, though resembling fish, are mammals. The name comes from the Greek ichthys, ‘fish’ and sauros, ‘lizard’. This clear case of shape similarity in fish, ichthyosaurs, and dolphins can’t be attributed to inheriting this shape from a common ancestor. Although evolutionists call this ‘convergent evolution’, a better explanation is common design.1

According to the evolutionary story, ichthyosaurs lived at about the same time as the dinosaurs. In particular, they appeared suddenly 250 Ma (million years ago)2 with no trace of non-ichthyosaur ancestry, and died out 90 Ma, before the last dinosaur (65 Ma).

Ichthyosaur fossils were first discovered by the Anning family in Lyme Regis on the southern coast of England in the early 19th century. A number of varieties have since been discovered, averaging about 2–4 m (6–13 feet) long. One average-sized ichthyosaur was called Ophthalmosaurus, meaning ‘eye lizard’, because of its enormous eyes—10 cm (4 inches) in diameter. But some ichthyosaurs were much larger, e.g. Shonisaurus (‘lizard from the Shoshone Mountains’ in Nevada) measured 15 metres (50 ft) long, and Shastasaurus (‘lizard from Mt Shasta’, California) was even more gigantic at 21m (70 ft) long.

There are no ichthyosaurs alive today. As air-breathers, they could not stay under water indefinitely, so would surely have been discovered if they were still alive. But their extinction is a mystery for evolutionists, since they seem very well adapted to marine life. A likely biblical explanation is that they were mostly or totally wiped out by Noah’s Flood, like other large marine reptiles such as pliosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs. After all, Noah took only land creatures on board the Ark. Even if some of these reptiles survived the Flood itself, the drastic temperature changes in the ocean may have been especially harmful to large marine reptiles because they were cold-blooded, unlike whales and dolphins.

Mother ichthyosaur

Fossil of ichthyosaur mother with three embryos. Colour coding: Maternal—black, vertebral column; blue, pelvis and hind flipper; green, ribs and gastralia. Embryos 1 & 2 orange and yellow, respectively; newborn red. Scale bar: 1 cm. Image: Motani, R. et al., ref. 3.

Recently, palaeontologists uncovered an ichthyosaur known as a Chaohusaurus in China, preserved at the moment of giving birth to the second of triplets, ‘dated’ to 248 Ma.3,4

Because the specimen shows a baby inside its mother, another leaving her pelvis and a third nearby, the researchers speculated that the mother may have died during a difficult labour. However, the exquisite preservation of the fossils indicates rapid burial. If the ichthyosaur died giving birth, that in itself would not explain the fossilization. Furthermore, it would not explain the fossilization of the baby already born, or any connection to the birthing mother. Instead, these facts suggest rapid burial in massive mud flows, as would be expected during Noah’s Flood.

This fossil challenges evolutionary ideas about reptiles, and the aquatic reptiles in particular. Live birthing in reptiles (in which egg-laying is rather the ‘norm’) was already a problem for evolutionists, who say it “seems to have evolved more than a hundred times in history”. (Actually, even once defies evolutionary explanation, let alone 100 times!5)

Surprisingly, the second of these ichthyosaur triplets is being born head-first (a characteristic of land animals), rather than tail-first as in most marine animals, such as dolphins and whales. This has confused evolutionary notions about where ichthyosaurian live-birthing originated. Lead author Ryosuke Motani of the University of California observed, “[So] live bearing did not evolve in water as scientists thought. Our assumption was wrong.” This entails the supposed evolutionary ancestors of ichthyosaurs being land creatures, so here we have yet another story of land creatures changing back into sea creatures.

However, there are other fossils that show the expected tail-first births in ichthyosaurs, as CMI speakers often show (see above), and which have featured in this magazine.6 This sort of tail-first birth, shared by dolphins, is a good design feature for aquatic air-breathing creatures. A head-first birth might lead to the baby trying to breathe under water, leading to drowning. The tail-first birth means that the head is last out of the birth canal, and it is ready to swim to the surface to breathe air. Thus the new fossil of a head-first birth may well have been pathological, perhaps the trauma of being buried causing premature birth from the wrong position.

Ichthyosaur graveyard with soft tissue

Meanwhile, in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, a huge fossil graveyard of almost 50 entire ichthyosaurs, comprising both adults (including pregnant females) and juveniles, has been found.7 The researchers said they were killed by turbidity currents, i.e. underwater mudflows—just what would be produced when “all the fountains of the great deep burst forth” (Genesis 7:11).

According to one report, “Amazingly, not only the bones have been preserved but also some soft tissue on a number of the fossils.”8 The fossils were found in ‘lower Cretaceous’ rocks, ‘dated’ to about 130–140 Ma. But the spectacular preservation is not but not so amazing if they were buried rapidly in the Flood about 4,500 years ago, as the evidence supports. The authors themselves suggest rapid burial by massive underwater sediment flows

In fact, an ichthyosaur fossil found in Germany didn’t just have soft tissue fossilized, it still had some of the original soft tissue present—see Soft tissue preservation in a ‘Jurassic’ ichthyosaur. And this is hardly the only example of soft tissue allegedly millions of years past its survive-by date. Over the last two decades, scientists have recovered soft tissue, proteins, and DNA from dinosaur bones.9 Further, just this year, scientists have found soft tissue, preserved down to electron-microscopic detail, in marine worms ‘dated’ to 551 Ma.10

Such finds should be causing a re-think about the reality of Noah’s Flood as well as the time-frame in which ichthyosaurs lived.

Editor’s note added June 2022: Under the subheading ‘’, the section starting with ‘According to one report’ and ending a paragraph further done with ‘551Ma.’ Has been edited to more clearly reflect the difference between the two possible meanings of ‘soft tissue preservation’ in a fossil. These are:

  1. Preservation of merely the form or outline of the original soft portion of the body, which may involve replacement of the original soft tissue by mineral or just the preservation of its shape as a cast, vs:
  2. The finding of original elements of the actual soft tissue itself, e.g. intact cells, portions of soft ligament, often with the identification of actual protein. This original tissue usually comes to light upon dissolving the mineral matrix within which is was entombed.

The first of these is an argument for very rapid burial and rapid subsequent hardening, given the ready decay of soft tissue. Even under the conditions of a global Flood, soft tissue preservation like this would require, in addition to rapid burial, the presence of the appropriate conditions such as the right minerals in the sediment. So soft tissue fossilizes relatively rarely.

The second is a powerful argument against the millions of years, as this article notes. Even encased in solid rock, proteins should have fallen apart long before now if the fossils really were, as alleged, many millions of years old.

Posted on homepage: 17 November 2014

References and notes

  1. Statham, D., Homology made simple, Creation 34(4):43–45, 2012; creation.com/homology-simple. Return to text.
  2. Geologists mainly use ka, Ma, and Ga (kilo-annum, mega-annum, giga-annum) to mean 1,000, a million, and a billion years ago, i.e. their date. For duration, e.g. ichthyosaurs allegedly lasted 140 million years, this would be 140 Myr (or 0.14 Gyr, etc.). Aubry, M.-P. et al., Terminology of geological time: Establishment of a community standard, Stratigraphy 6(2):100–105, 2009. Return to text.
  3. Motani, R. and 4 others, Terrestrial origin of viviparity in Mesozoic marine reptiles indicated by Early Triassic embryonic fossils, PLOS One 9(2):e88640, 12 February 2014 | doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088640. Return to text.
  4. Dell’Amore, C., Oldest sea monster babies found; fossil shows reptiles had live birth, news.nationalgeographic.com, 12 February 2014. Return to text.
  5. See for example, Catchpoole, D. and Sarfati, J., ‘The oldest pregnant mum’—not! about the armoured fossil fish Materpiscis attenboroughi (‘Mother fish of Attenborough’), creation.com/pregnant-mum. Return to text.
  6. Buried birth, Creation 19(3):38–39, 1997; creation.com/buried-birth. Return to text.
  7. Stinnesbeck, W. and 6 others, A Lower Cretaceous ichthyosaur graveyard in deep marine slope channel deposits at Torres del Paine National Park, southern Chile, Geological Society of America Bulletin, 2014 | doi: 10.1130/B30964.1. Return to text.
  8. Dinosaur graveyard discovered in southern Chile, Nearly 50 entire fossils found, latino.foxnews.com, 5 June 2014. Return to text.
  9. Catchpoole, D., Double-decade dinosaur disquiet, Creation 36(1):12–14, 2014; creation.com/dino-disquiet. Return to text.
  10. Catchpoole, D., Seabed worm fossils still soft after 500 million years? Creation 36(4):21–22, 2014; creation.com/soft-worm-fossils. Return to text.

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