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Creation 35(1):51–53, January 2013

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Another major ‘link’ fails

Puijila, claimed ancestor of pinnipeds is an otter

Figure 1. A page from Appendix E of Dr Werner’s Evolution: the Grand Experiment, 2nd edition, showing the skeltons of the supposed transitional fossil (top) and the North American river otter (bottom). Other than Puijila standing flat-footed, it is hard to see much difference.

For 150 years, evolutionists had not been able to find evolutionary ancestors for the aquatic group of mammals called pinnipeds—the seals, sea lions, and walruses. This was odd because they had found well over 15,000 fossil pinnipeds1 but they had not found any land ancestors that were on the way to becoming a seal, sea lion or walrus. Their ‘oldest’ fossil, a creature called Enaliarctos, looked like a modern sea lion, with fully aquatic front and back flippers, not feet or even webbed feet.2 Such a wealth of fossils but no transitional creature fossils posed a conundrum for evolution scientists. For creation scientists, this was not a problem at all but the expected fossil pattern: Pinnipeds were created ‘as is’, and did not evolve from another animal, hence the missing links should not be found.

In 2009 Puijila darwini was announced as the latest ‘missing link’ found, a triumph of evolution.3 This was published in Nature, regarded as the most prestigious journal in the world. Richard Dawkins waxed lyrical about this fossil:

“Puijila neatly straddles the gap between land and water in the ancestry of pinnipeds. It is yet another delightful addition to our growing list of ‘links’ that are no longer missing.”4

However, according to Dr Carl Werner, who investigated this claim in detail for his book Evolution the Grand Experiment (2nd Edition), it looks like the authors of the Nature article seriously misrepresented and misinterpreted the fossils.5

The skeleton of Puijila looks like a modern river otter, not a missing link. The scientists who discovered the fossil tacitly acknowledged this: “Puijila did not possess flippers, its feet were probably webbed, it had a long tail and its limb proportions were generally similar to modern otters” and “the postcranial skeleton [everything other than the head] of Puijila appears most similar to that of the extant [(living) North American] river otter Lontra canadensis.”

Dr Werner pointed out that Puijila looks like a modern river otter and does not have the necessary anatomic features to even call it a pinniped: “Puijila did not have the typical oversized finned back feet or front flippers diagnostic of pinnipeds. Rather, Puijila had four small webbed feet similar to North American river otters.” Even the overall length of Puijila was similar to the North American river otter (Puijila: 110 cm versus 112 cm; see figure 1). Nevertheless, the Nature authors claimed that their fossil was a “primitive Arctic pinniped”. This would be equivalent to calling a hippopotamus a ‘whale’ because you believed hippos evolved into whales, as some evolution scientists claim.

So what about the skull, which they claim is different to an otter? The authors of the Nature article argued that Puijila had large eye sockets like pinnipeds and back teeth like pinnipeds. Simply put, these claims don’t stack up. Puijila did not have large eye sockets as claimed. The size of the eye socket of Puijila is small, similar to a river otter, not ‘large’—as seen in Dr Werner’s detailed comparisons in Evolution the Grand Experiment, (2nd Edition).

Regarding the teeth, Puijila, like living North American river otters, has two distinct types of teeth behind the canines: premolars and molars, which are also large. Their back teeth are nothing like those of pinnipeds, which are uniform and small. This strongly refutes the claim that Puijila had pinniped-like teeth (see figure 2).

Pinnipeds also have very short tails. The authors claimed that “the tail of Puijila appears to have been shorter and more gracile [thinner] than that of Lontra [the river otter]” but this claim is, again, misleading. Puijila’s tail looks like the modern river otter (compare the tails in the pictures of the two skeletons, figure 1).

Figure 2. Comparison of the teeth of a pinniped (top left), a river otter (top right) and Puijila. The teeth of Puijila look just like otter teeth, not at all like a pinniped. PM: pre-molar tooth, M: molar, PC: post-canine tooth. Credits: Puijila, Canadian Museum of Nature, Fur seal and otter: Dr Carl Werner.

Dr Werner made other comparisons, which make a strong case that, in their enthusiasm for finding a significant ‘missing link’ the paleontologists got it very wrong. Puijila is just an otter, almost identical to the North American river otter, which is still very much alive today. It appears that evolution scientists have yet another missing link gone ‘missing’.


But wait … there’s more

The Nature paper has a ‘family tree’ (cladogram) showing Puijila grouped with the pinnipeds, not the otters. However, Dr Werner shows why this does not stand up to critical scrutiny. For one thing, the authors do not include any of the six classic distinguishing characters of pinnipeds in the analyses. See creation.com/puijila-s.


  1. Werner, C., Evolution: the Grand Experiment, vol. 1, New Leaf Press, p. 225, 2007. Return to text.
  2. Display at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, July 2011, reads: “Enaliarctos mealsi. This partially disarticulated skeleton is the oldest pinniped now known. Enaliarctos was fully aquatic, and had most of the skeletal adaptations of modern sea lions. Miocene 23 million years ago.” Return to text.
  3. Rybczynski, N., Dawson, M.R. and Tedford, R.H., A semi-aquatic Arctic mammalian carnivore from the Miocene epoch and origin of Pinnipedia, Nature 458:1021–1024, 2009; doi:10.1038/nature07985. Return to text.
  4. Dawkins, R., The Greatest Show on Earth, Bantam Books, 2009, p. 173. Dr Jonathan Sarfati dealt with other fossils that Dr Dawkins claimed to be transitional in chapter 8 of The Greatest Hoax on Earth, Creation Book Publishers, 2010. See also, https://creation.com/fossils. Return to text.
  5. Dr Werner’s detailed findings, much more than can be published here, are in Appendix E, a 14-page addition to the second edition of Evolution, the Grand Experiment, available currently only as an e-book from Amazon. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Dennis W.
And Nature magazine has any credibility remaining??

THAT is incredible!!
Richard R T.
Do the editors of Nature ever acknowledge mistakes? Or do they just never make any? What list to they next aspire to join with a #1 position?

I also wonder if "Nature" contends that Darwin invented Evolution or just discovered one of God's heavily used tools to avoid micro-management of all species?
Don Batten
Indeed, all that is true about 'evolution' (such as the role of natural selection in weeding out the unfit) is also part of the biblical creation model that has operated since the Fall of Genesis 3. See Biology Q&A
Dennis H.
The scriptures of evolutionists are never subject to correction if the priest or scribe writing is waxing their truth eloquently. It is more than a precise dissection of fact from fancy that science has yet to find any evidence which contradicts the Word's account of events, yet scientists often find contradictions in their evolutionary-centric Atheology. The Bible stands on its own as an organic revelation of God to the believer, while no one will ever read Nature to learn more about any omits authors, just their foolish professions and vain accounts. Ben Nature's editorial staff knows this fact, as it forms the basis of its policy to never retract or edit and republish corrected works. It would indict far too many of the peer reviewers, as well as the authors. No one cares for them, but themselves..a disreputable rabble ordained to no good things whatsoever for mankind
Michael F.
I agree with the creationist view that the Puijila is probably just a 20 million year old otter, and not ancestor of modern seal/sea lions. DNA evidence has shown that seals are closely related to bears, so I would imagine their ancestors would be more bear-like rather than otter or weasel-like. The Enaliarctos is an extinct genus of pinniped, which looked pretty similar to a modern seal or sea lion, and it lived around the same time as the Puijila (roughly 20 million years ago), so I would imagine that the transitional non-flipper arm seal/sea lion ancestor would probably have lived more like 30-40 million years ago. Sea mammal fossils are not too common because they are often totally devoured by other sea creatures when they die, but I am confident that a 30-40 million year old pinniped will eventually be found, and that it may look something like a cross between a polar bear and a seal (a baby harp seal and baby polar bear actually look surprisingly similar).
Don Batten
I am glad that we agree that Puijila is an otter (but we don't agree on the imaginary "20 million year old" bit).
When you begin, "so I would imagine", now you are speaking as an evolutionist. :-)
I note your confidence that the ancestor of pinnipeds existed and will be found and your rationale for it not having been found yet; the old 'scarcity of fossils' excuse. Note that in the opening paragraph of our article it states that 15,000 fossil pinnipeds have been found. How is it that these were preserved in abundance and yet your imagined creature (which "may look something like a cross between a polar bear and a seal") seems to have been so commonly "devoured by other sea creatures" that it is not to be found (yet!)?
Yurie H.
The science is quite simple: if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck, fossilizes like a duck, it must be a seal!
Chuck J.
Lies on top of lies...tell one often enough and ...well, you know the rest. Just as I began to watch a show on the history channel the other day that began (I paraphrase) 'Every child knows the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. It's a nice story, except it's not true.' I changed the channel. Today I saw part of a show on a science channel that put forwart that the big bang may not have happened, but what we see is the result of 2 dimensions that happened to bump into each other which has happened before and will happen again when everything flattens out (therefore no need for God). It's rare that I can stand to watch this stuff anymore, but sometimes I do so that I can be aware of what I may come up against in talking to non Christians. I look to you folks to for the science to refute them to get them interested in the Bible. Thank you.
Rosemary S.
It seems incredible that "scientists" should actually use examples such as the puijila mentioned in this article (and so, apparently, show themselves guilty of confusing otters with seals!), in their enthusiasm to offer "proof" of their evolutionary paradigm. To say nothing of their claim that archaeopteryx, a perching bird as some evolutionists themselves admit, is a link between dinosaurs and birds.

And so it shouts from the rooftops that darwinists have no true missing links to produce in support of their "guesstimates", merely a collection of extremely dubious pseudo-scientific attempts, and as a result are reduced to making hyped-up fusses of each and every one. Had they anything better to offer, they would never spread abroad such fairytales as these!

One can only hope that the readers of evolutionary journals will use their common sense, and realise such a simple fact for themselves. Thank you, CMI, for your splendid efforts in helping this along as you expose the "missing links" for the rubbish they truly are!
roger P.
nice research,
i can see is otterly (utterly) true.
while MToE adherents I sea (see are) lion (lying) again.
Peter H.
In the case of Richard Dawkins, may I paraphrase Ryan W.'s comment to ask: At what point does this story telling stop being secular "enthusiasm for finding a significant ‘missing link’" and start becoming simple credulity unworthy of a scholar who holds an earned doctorate degree?
Marita V.
I agree with Ryan W on the wikipedia article.

How can something that LOOKS like an otter, suddenly be a seal?

If the molars (not even to talk about the rest of the skeleton) are so distinguishing, how could they make such a mistake? I truly do not understand this - don't they use supporting pictures (like in your article)? Why is this not questioned? I only googled for "otter (/seal/puijila) skull teeth". I found the similarities with otter teeth obvous. (As well as the difference from seal teeth). And this seems to be one of their major reasons to put it in the seal family?

Even the evolutionary articles have pictures of the puijila looking like otters.

And why is the phylogenetic tree that they have in the Nature article so authoritative? Isn't such a tree just a human organisation? Just because they put it in a certain place doesn't mean it belongs there. Why do they not just "put" it next to the otter?

I find this very disturbing.
Don Batten
Yes, it is rather incredible; and in the world's top science journal.
As for the phylogenetic tree, placement in these depends wholly on the traits that are included in the analysis. As Dr Werner points out, the characteristic traits necessary to place Puijila with the pinnipeds were omitted from the analysis.
I believe that this is symptomatic of evolutionary story-telling that unfortunately passes as 'science' today. It is driven by the prior belief system (presuppositions) rather than the evidence. It is not science like physics, chemistry or molecular biology.
Ryan W.
It is very telling that the Wikipedia article on Puijila darwini includes the statements "Puijila darwini is an extinct species of seal" and "Puijila is a transitional fossil that provides information about how the seal family returned to the seas, similar to the way that Archaeopteryx illuminates the origin of modern birds."
Archaeopteryx, a fully formed perching bird, shows nothing of what a transitional fossil should show, but this isn’t what the secular scientists would tell you. This transitional form has been rebutted dozens of times by secular and creationist scientists, but the story perpetuates, and is even gaining momentum (one look at recent dinosaur reconstructions have flight feathers stuck on every theropod, even T.rex). Puijila, a fully formed river otter, also shows no characteristic features of a transitional form.
At what point does this story telling stop being secular "enthusiasm for finding a significant ‘missing link’" and start becoming blatant intellectual dishonesty to support a paradigm, even contrary to the evidence? Surely even the secular reviewers of the published articles on P.darwini can see that the writers are ‘drawing a long bow’.
graham P.
Excellent article: How disgraceful that any publication could publish something so manifestly false, and then have the temerity to call it science!
John B.
What an amazing article….BUT…Please tell me that Dr Werner has put this case forward for mainstream publication in the “secular” scientific journals. If so already, what, if any, has been the outcome of any responses made by the Darwin worshippers? The skeleton of the so called Puijila darwini and that of the modern river otter appear to be so identical, it’s a major embarrassment for the likes of Dawkins and his followers. What a lotta otter rot!
Great work. John
Don Batten
The experience of many creationist scientists is that it would be a waste of valuable time to prepare a paper for a 'mainstream' journal. Almost universally, only 'science' that is not openly attacking evolutionary notions is accepted for publication (and even less if the author is a known 'creationist'). See Peer review and other articles on creation.com from searching for 'peer review'. The article in Nature on the otter is a spectacular example of the failure of 'peer review' in the world's #1 science journal.

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