Also Available in:
Refuting Evolution Chapter 5

Table of Contents

Refuting Evolution

Book Index 


Foreword & Introduction

Chapter 1

Facts & Bias
See Study Guide, Lesson 1

Chapter 2

Variation and Natural Selection Versus Evolution
See Study Guide, Lesson 2

Chapter 3

The Links Are Missing
See Study Guide, Lesson 3

Chapter 4

Bird Evolution?
See Study Guide, Lesson 4

Chapter 5

Whale Evolution?
See Study Guide, Lesson 5

Chapter 6

Humans: Images of God or Advanced Apes?
See Study Guide, Lesson 6

Chapter 7

See Study Guide, Lesson 7

Chapter 8

How Old Is the Earth?
See Study Guide, Lesson 8

Chapter 9

Is the Design Explanation Legitimate?
See Study Guide, Lesson 9

Chapter 10


Refuting Evolution—Chapter 5

A handbook for students, parents, and teachers countering the latest arguments for evolution

by , Ph.D., F.M.

Whale evolution?

First published in Refuting Evolution, Chapter 5

Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) are actually mammals, not fish. But they live their whole lives in water, unlike most mammals that live on land. But evolutionists believe that cetaceans evolved from land mammals. One alleged transitional series is prominently drawn in Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science. This chapter analyzes this and other arguments for cetacean evolution, and shows some of the unique features of whales and dolphins.

Wonderful whales

Cetaceans have many unique features to enable them to live in water. For example:

  • Enormous lung capacity with efficient oxygen exchange for long dives.
  • A powerful tail with large horizontal flukes enabling very strong swimming.
  • Eyes designed to see properly in water with its far higher refractive index, and withstand high pressure.
  • Ears designed differently from those of land mammals that pick up airborne sound waves and with the eardrum protected from high pressure.
  • Skin lacking hair and sweat glands but incorporating fibrous, fatty blubber.
  • Whale fins and tongues have counter-current heat exchangers to minimize heat loss.
  • Nostrils on the top of the head (blowholes).
  • Specially fitting mouth and nipples so the baby can be breast-fed underwater.
  • Baleen whales have sheets of baleen (whalebone) that hang from the roof of the mouth and filter plankton for food.

Many cetaceans find objects by echo-location. They have a sonar system which is so precise that it’s the envy of the U.S. Navy. It can detect a fish the size of a golf ball 230 feet (70 m) away. It took an expert in chaos theory to show that the dolphin’s ‘click’ pattern is mathematically designed to give the best information.1

One amazing feature of most echo-locating dolphins and small whales is the ‘melon,’ a fatty protrusion on the forehead. This ‘melon’ is actually a sound lens—a sophisticated structure designed to focus the emitted sound waves into a beam which the dolphin can direct where it likes. This sound lens depends on the fact that different lipids (fatty compounds) bend the ultrasonic sound waves traveling through them in different ways. The different lipids have to be arranged in the right shape and sequence in order to focus the returning sound echoes. Each separate lipid is unique and different from normal blubber lipids, and is made by a complicated chemical process, requiring a number of different enzymes.2

For such an organ to have evolved, random mutations must have formed the right enzymes to make the right lipids, and other mutations must have caused the lipids to be deposited in the right place and shape. A gradual step-by-step evolution of the organ is not feasible, because until the lipids were fully formed and at least partly in the right place and shape, they would have been of no use. Therefore, natural selection would not have favored incomplete intermediate forms.

Missing links

Evolutionists believe that whales evolved from some form of land mammal. According to Teaching about Evolution, page 18, they ‘evolved from a primitive group of hoofed mammals called Mesonychids.’

However, there are many changes required for a whale to evolve from a land mammal. One of them is to get rid of its pelvis. This would tend to crush the reproductive orifice with propulsive tail movements. But a shrinking pelvis would not be able to support the hind-limbs needed for walking. So the hypothetical transitional form would be unsuited to both land and sea, and hence be extremely vulnerable. Also, the hind part of the body must twist on the fore part, so the tail’s sideways movement can be converted to a vertical movement. Seals and dugongs are not anatomically intermediate between land mammals and whales. They have particular specializations of their own.

The lack of transitional forms in the fossil record was realized by evolutionary whale experts like the late E.J. Slijper: ‘We do not possess a single fossil of the transitional forms between the aforementioned land animals [i.e., carnivores and ungulates] and the whales.’3

The lowest whale fossils in the fossil record show they were completely aquatic from the first time they appeared. However, Teaching about Evolution is intended as a polemic for evolution. So it reconstructs some recent fossil discoveries to support the whale evolution stories that Slijper believed on faith. On page 18 there is a nice picture of an alleged transitional series between land mammals and whales (drawn at roughly the same size without telling readers that some of the creatures were hugely different in size—see the section about Basilosaurus in this chapter). This appears to be derived from an article in Discover magazine.4 The Discover list (below) is identical to the Teaching about Evolution series except that the latter has Basilosaurus as the fourth creature and the Discover list has ‘dates’:

  • Mesonychid (55 million years ago)
  • Ambulocetus (50 million years ago)
  • Rodhocetus (46 million years ago)
  • Prozeuglodon (40 million years ago)

One thing to note is the lack of time for the vast number of changes to occur by mutation and selection. If a mutation results in a new gene, for this new gene to replace the old gene in a population, the individuals carrying the old gene must be eliminated, and this takes time. Population genetics calculations suggest that in 5 million years (one million years longer than the alleged time between Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus), animals with generation lines of about ten years (typical of whales) could substitute no more than about 1,700 mutations.5 This is not nearly enough to generate the new information that whales need for aquatic life, even assuming that all the hypothetical information-adding mutations required for this could somehow arise. (And as shown in chapter 9, real science shows that this cannot occur.)


(A) Reconstruction of Ambulocetus, ‘at the end of the power stroke during swimming.’7 The stippled bones were all that were found, and the shaded ones were found 5 m above the rest.
(B) With the ‘additions’ removed there really isn’t much left of Ambulocetus!


The second in this ‘transitional series’ is the 7-foot (2 m) long Ambulocetus natans (‘walking whale that swims’). Like the secular media and more ‘popular’ science journals, Teaching about Evolution often presents nice neat stories to readers, not the ins and outs of the research methodology, including its limitations. The nice pictures of Ambulocetus natans in these publications are based on artists’ imaginations, and should be compared with the actual bones found! The difference is illustrated well in the article A Whale of a Tale?6 This article shows that the critical skeletal elements necessary to establish the transition from non-swimming land mammal to whale are (conveniently) missing (see diagram). Therefore, grand claims about the significance of the fossils cannot be critically evaluated. The evolutionary biologist Annalisa Berta commented on the Ambulocetus fossil:

Since the pelvic girdle is not preserved, there is no direct evidence in Ambulocetus for a connection between the hind limbs and the axial skeleton. This hinders interpretations of locomotion in this animal, since many of the muscles that support and move the hindlimb originate on the pelvis.7

Finally, it is dated more recently (by evolutionary dating methods) than undisputed whales, so is unlikely to be a walking ancestor of whales.

[From Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science]3834-mammals
Alleged sequence of land mammal to whale transition


Basilosaurus isis (a.k.a. Zeuglodon) is the fourth and last postulated transitional form on page 18 of Teaching about Evolution. Basilosaurus is Greek for ‘king lizard,’ but it was actually a serpent-like sea mammal about 70 feet (21 m) long, with a 5-foot (1.5 m) long skull. It was 10 times as long as Ambulocetus, although the Teaching about Evolution book draws them at the same size (above)—it helps give the desired (false) impression that there is a genuine transitional series.

However, Basilosaurus was fully aquatic, so hardly transitional between land mammals and whales. Also, Barbara Jaffe Stahl (1930–2004), a vertebrate paleontologist and evolutionist, points out:

The serpentine form of the body and the peculiar shape of the cheek teeth make it plain that these archaeocetes [like Basilosaurus] could not possibly have been the ancestor of modern whales.

Both modern branches of whales, the toothed whales (Odontoceti) and baleen whales (Mysticeti), appear abruptly in the fossil record. Stahl points out the following regarding the skull structure in both types:

… shows a strange modification not present, even in a rudimentary way, in Basilosaurus and its relatives: in conjunction with the backward migration of the nostrils on the dorsal surface of the head, the nasal bones have been reduced and carried upwards and the premaxillary and maxillary elements have expanded to the rear to cover the original braincase roof.8

Basilosaurus did have small hind limbs (certainly too small for walking), and Teaching Evolution says ‘they were thought to be non-functional.’ But they were probably used for grasping during copulation, according to even other evolutionists. For example, the evolutionary whale expert Philip Gingerich said, ‘It seems to me that they could only have been some kind of sexual and reproductive clasper.’9


Pakicetus inachus is yet another candidate as an intermediate between whales and land mammals in the eyes of some evolutionists. According to evolutionary ‘dating’ methods it is 52 million years old. Since some educational publications have also claimed Pakicetus is transitional (see diagram), it is worth discussing although it is absent from Teaching about Evolution. This indicates that its authors don’t believe Pakicetus is a good example of an intermediate. This could be because Pakicetus is known only from some cheek teeth and fragments of the skull and lower jaw, so we have no way of knowing whether its locomotion was transitional. The diagram shows the imaginative reconstruction taught to schoolteachers and on the cover of Science, compared to the reality as reported in the same issue. Note that only the stippled parts of the skull represent actual fossil evidence, while the rest is ‘reconstructed.’ But we do know that its hearing mechanism was that of a land mammal and that it was found in fluvial sediments with other land animals.10 So the evidence shows that it was probably a land mammal, not a transitional form.11


Top left: Gingerich’s first reconstruction10,12
Bottom left: what he had actually found10,12
Top right: more complete skeleton13
Bottom right: more reasonable reconstruction15

After I first wrote Refuting Evolution, new research has blown away this reconstruction. This demonstrates an oft-repeated phenomenon in evolutionary paleontology. Many of the alleged transitional forms are based on fragmentary remains, which are therefore open to several interpretations, based on one’s axioms. Evolutionary bias means that such remains are often likely to be interpreted as transitional, as with Gingerich, and is also prevalent in ape-man claims. But when more bones are discovered, then the fossils nearly always fit one type or another, and are no longer plausible as transitional. It’s also notable that alleged intermediate forms are often trumpeted in the media, while retractions are usually muted or unpublicized.

A prominent whale expert, Thewissen, and colleagues unearthed some more bones of Pakicetus, and published their work in the journal Nature.13 The commentary on this paper in the same issue14 says, ‘All the postcranial bones indicate that pakicetids were land mammals, and … indicate that the animals were runners, with only their feet touching the ground.’ (See illustration, above right.) This is very different from Gingerich’s picture of an aquatic animal! But the evolutionary bias is still clear, describing Pakicetus as a ‘terrestrial cetacean’ and saying, ‘The first whales were fully terrestrial, and were even efficient runners.’ But the term ‘whale’ becomes meaningless if it can describe land mammals, and it provides no insight into how true marine whales supposedly evolved.

Also, ‘solid anatomical data’ contradict previous theories of whale ancestry. The news article Fossil Finds Show Whales Related to Early Pigs says:

‘Until now paleontologists thought whales had evolved from mesonychians, an extinct group of land-dwelling carnivores, while molecular scientists studying DNA were convinced they descended from artiodactyls [even-toed ungulates].

‘“The paleontologists, and I am one of them, were wrong,” Gingerich said.’

Such candor is commendable, and it shows the fallacy of trusting alleged ‘proofs’ of evolution. Pity that Gingerich is still committed to materialistic evolutionism.

G.A. Mchedlidze, a Russian expert on whales, has expressed serious doubts as to whether creatures like Pakicetus and Ambulocetus, and others—even if accepted as aquatic mammals—can properly be considered ancestors of modern whales. He sees them instead as a completely isolated group.16

Vestigial legs?

Many evolutionists support whale evolution by alleging that there are vestigial hind legs buried in their flesh. However, these so-called ‘remnants’ are not useless at all, but help strengthen the reproductive organs—the bones are different in males and females. So they are best explained by creation, not evolution.17 As with the allegedly functionless limbs of Basilosaurus, we should not assume that ignorance of a function means there is no function.

One myth promulgated by some evolutionists says that some whales have been found with hind legs, complete with thigh and knee muscles. However, this story probably grew by legendary accretion from a true account of a real sperm whale with a 5.5 inch (14 cm) bump with a 5-inch (12 cm) piece of bone inside. Sperm whales are typically about 62 feet (19 m) long, so this abnormal piece of bone is minute in comparison with the whale—this hardly qualifies as a ‘leg!’18

References and notes

  1. Howlett, R., Flipper’s secret, New Scientist 154(2088):34–39, 28 June 1997. Return to text.
  2. Varanasi, U., Feldman, H.R. and Malins, D.C., Molecular basis for formation of lipid sound lens in echolocating cetaceans, Nature 255(5506):340–343, 22 May 1975. Return to text.
  3. Slijper, E.J., Dolphins and Whales University of Michigan Press, USA, 1962, p. 17. Return to text.
  4. Zimmer, C., Back to the sea, Discover, p. 83, January 1995. Return to text.
  5. This is explained fully in ReMine, W.J., The Biotic Message, St. Paul Science, USA, 1993, chapter 8 (see review; creation.com/biotic). Return to text.
  6. Batten, D., A Whale of a Tale? Journal of Creation 8(1):2–3, 1994; creation.com/ambulo. Return to text.
  7. Thewissen, J.G.M., Hussain, S.T. and Arif, M., Fossil evidence for the origin of aquatic locomotion in archaeocete whales, Science 263(5144):210–212, 14 January 1994. Perspective by A. Berta, What is a Whale?, same issue, p. 180–181. Return to text.
  8. Stahl, B.J., Vertebrate History: Problems in Evolution McGraw-Hill, USA, 1974, p. 489; emphasis added. Return to text.
  9. The Press Enterprise, 1 July 1990, A–15. Return to text.
  10. Gingerich, P.D., Wells, N.A., Russell, D.E. and Shah, S.M.I., Origin of whales in epicontinental remnant seas: new evidence from the Early Eocene of PakistanScience 220(4595):403–406, 22 April 1983. Return to text.
  11. A detailed analysis of alleged whale intermediates is Camp, A.L., The overselling of whale evolution, Creation Matters 3(3):1–5, May–June 1998; also online at trueorigin.org/whales.php. Return to text.
  12. Gingerich, P.D., Evidence for evolution from the vertebrate fossil record, Journal of Geological Education 31(2):140–144, 1983. Return to text.
  13. Thewissen, J.G.M., Williams, E.M, Roe, L.J. and Hussain, S.T., Skeletons of terrestrial cetaceans and the relationship of whales to artiodactyls, Nature 413:277–281, 20 September 2001; nature.com/articles/35095005. Return to text.
  14. Muizon, C. de, Walking with whales, Nature 413:259–260, 20 September 2001; nature.com/articles/35095137. Return to text.
  15. Pakicetus … eight years on. Illustration: Carl Buell, www.neoucom.edu/Depts/Anat/Pakicetid.html. Return to text.
  16. Mchedlidze, G.A., General Features of the Paleobiological Evolution of Cetacea, translated from Russian, A.A. Balkema, Netherlands, 1986, p. 91. Return to text.
  17. J. Bergman, J. and Howe, G., Vestigial Organs Are Fully Functional, Monograph Series: No. 4, Creation Research Society, USA, 1990. Return to text.
  18. Wieland, C., The strange tale of the leg on the whale, Creation 20(3):10–13, June–August 1998; creation.com/whaleleg. Return to text.

By downloading this material, you agree to the following terms with respect to the use of the requested material: CMI grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable license to print or download one (1) copy of the copyrighted work. The copyrighted work will be used for non-commercial, personal purposes only. You may not prepare, manufacture, copy, use, promote, distribute, or sell a derivative work of the copyrighted work without the express approval of Creation Ministries International Ltd. Approval must be expressed and in writing, and failure to respond shall not be deemed approval. All rights in the copyrighted work not specifically granted to you are reserved by CMI. All such reserved rights may be exercised by CMI. This Agreement, and all interpretations thereof, shall be deemed to be in accordance with the law of the state of Queensland, Australia. Any dispute arising out of this Agreement shall be resolved in accordance with Queensland law and the courts of Queensland shall be deemed to be those of proper jurisdiction and venue.
Download the whole book from our store for a modest cost.