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Creation 33(3):54–55, July 2011

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Rodhocetus and other stories of whale evolution


©iStockPhoto.com/miblue5 Whale

Asked for a good example of transitional fossils showing evolution, many evolutionists put forward whales. Museums and textbooks show pictures of creatures that supposedly show the evolution of whales from a land animal.

Key to this story is a fossil of a creature called Rodhocetus, which is portrayed as the first creature with legs changing into flippers and with the tail developing into a whale’s tail. Without it there is really no story, but recent disclosures undo the tale.1

Dr Philip Gingerich, who found the fossil, promoted the idea that Rodhocetus had a whale’s tail. The fossil is on display at the University of Michigan, but Dr Carl Werner noted that the part that would show the presence of the flukes (the rear wings) is missing.1 He asked about the missing tail bones and how they knew it had tail flukes. Dr Gingerich replied,

“I speculated that it might have had a fluke … I now doubt that Rodhocetus would have had a fluked tail.”2

And the legs becoming flippers?

Dr Werner noted on inspecting the fossil of Rodhocetus the absence of any foot/flipper bones. When he asked Dr Gingerich how he knew that the animal had flippers, Dr Gingerich said,

“Since then we have found the forelimbs, the hands, and the front arms of Rodhocetus, and we understand that it doesn’t have the kind of arms that can spread out like flippers on a whale.”2

So Rodhocetus had neither a tail fluke nor flippers, according to its discoverer. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the museums to change their displays or the textbooks to stop portraying Rodhocetus as a neat transitional form. A picture is worth a thousand words, and like the fraudulent embryo drawings of Haeckel, they will be reluctant to let this one go.

Rodhocetus at the Museum of Natural History, University of Michigan, USA. Fossil evidence overlaid on the museum’s illustration from Dr Carl Werner, Evolution the Grand Experiment Vol. 1 DVD. Red Xs added to emphasize the imagination involved in the illustration.
Rodhocetus at the Museum of Natural History, University of Michigan, USA. Fossil evidence overlaid on the museum’s illustration from Dr Carl Werner, Evolution the Grand Experiment Vol. 1 DVD. Red Xs added to emphasize the imagination involved in the illustration.

Problems plus!

There are many other problems with whale evolution.3 Museums and textbooks portray the fossil story as being clear-cut, yet evolutionists cannot even agree on which land animal gave rise to the whales. Based on fossil similarities of teeth, some paleontologists favoured hyena-like animals (Pachyaena), while others preferred a cat-like animal (Sinonyx). But after recent comparisons of DNA, molecular biologists decided hippos were the closest to a whale ancestor!

There are, of course, huge problems in converting a hippo-like creature into a whale. Not even the teeth are similar: hippos’ teeth are flat and rasp-like, good for grinding up vegetation, whereas the toothed whales have pointed, sharp teeth, used now for catching fish and other swimming animals.

It’s all a whale of a tale.

References and notes

  1. Werner, C., Evolution: the Grand Experiment, Vol. 1, New Leaf Press, pp. 139–143. Return to text.
  2. Evolution: the Grand Experiment Vol. 1, DVD; interview by Dr Werner on August 28, 2001. Return to text.
  3. See Refuting Evolution, ch. 5, 2007. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

David B.
The last National Geographic article I saw on this subject included a graphic/chart which sort of covered up a gap in the strata (or "time") between such creatures as Rodhocetus and whales like Dorudon with the extreme length of the unique Basilosaurus. As usual, all the evolution is in long imaginary lines connecting dots of data.
Michael F.
There is no debate that Whales and Dolphins are mammals, and that DNA evidence shows that Hippos are their closest related living land mammal. Hippos spend a lot of time the water and have smooth whale like skin and big sharp teeth like a killer whale. From the DNA evidence I would say it is totally reasonable to believe that hippos and whales share a common ancestor. Just because scientist haven't found every intermediary species along the way don't mean that hippos and whales don't share a common ancestor like their DNA would suggest. Also, having "flipper arms" is a common mutation found in many species, including humans. It is totally reasonable to believe that an ancient hippo like creature had a baby with the flipper arms mutation that ended up being advantageous and bred true in further generations.
Don Batten
Who is disputing that whales and dolphins are both mammals? So are mice and elephants, which according to evolution must have had a common ancestor (the evidence for which is totally lacking).
DNA comparisons show that hippos are the most similar extant animal to whales, that's all. It does not show that they are the closest related living land animal; that is an evolutionary interpretation of the DNA evidence.
As the article said, the teeth of hippos and killer whales are quite different. Just Google teeth images of whales and hippos! The whale teeth are all similar, whereas the rear teeth of the hippo are radically different to the front teeth, being flat, rasping molars, quite unlike any whale teeth. Even the front teeth of the hippo are unlike whale teeth.
Flipper arms mutation? I assume you are referring to the developmental abnormality of webbed fingers, due to a fault in the programming that normally results in the death of skin cells between the fingers/toes. Although hippos have partly webbed toes, they have four toes, not the whale's five. There are huge differences between the skeletons of whales and hippos (google some images and compare them!).
Furthermore, you seemed to have missed the main point of this, and that is that the supposed ancestor of whales has changed so easily from one creature to a radically different one, and yet the fossil evidence has not changed! And yet the claim is that the fossil sequence is so clear!
It just goes to show that there is no clear fossil evidence for the evolution of whales from a land creature, hippo-like or otherwise.
Jim M.
I wrote to Dr. Gingerich and confirmed that we still don't know for certain whether Rodocetus had a tail fluke or not. He originally thought it probably did, but he now thinks it probably does not. The reason for this is "we know earlier and contemporary Maiacetus did not have a tail fluke." So he is now guessing that rodocetus had a tail like Maiacetus, but he really doesn't know. Then he added this: "The later whale Dorudon did have a tail fluke and swam with its tail."

He also confirmed that semiaquatic Rodhocetus had webbed hands that it used for paddling locomotion and did not yet have forelimb flippers. Then he mentions Dorudon again saying that it was fully aquatic and "could no longer paddle with its hands but had forelimb flippers like those of later whales."

So he is bringing up some other animals in the whale sequence that I am not familiar with. Regardless, like was previously mentioned by another poster, as a result of dates assigned to certain fossils, I thought the whale procession has almost been falsified because of the amazing speed that evolution would have had to occur at in order to change from a land animal to a whale.
Don Batten
I asked Dr Werner what he thought and he wrote,
"I agree with your assessment. It appears to me that there is no end to new conjectures of how whale evolution might have occurred. I say this because each museum that I visit has a different idea since the Rodhocetus story came out in 2007.

"Two points. In my opinion, Dorudon is just a whale.

"Another is that Pakicetus is a land animal. Look at this article from CMI."
peter H.
the more i debate atheists the more it seems that evolutionism is impossible to falsify ,because when shown chronological inconsistencies in their theory their explanation is that there are numerous pathways that run at different speeds!.this is especially so if there are different geological locations of discoveries that would otherwise demolish the story telling.it is all very convenient for them dont you think!?
Don Batten
Indeed, evolution as naturalism is not falsifiable in the minds of the true believers such as atheists. It is a 'given'; it must have happened because the alternative, creation, is unthinkable. So, ad hoc hypothesis is piled on ad hoc hypothesis to rescue the idea from every inconvenient fact. James Conant, former President of Cornell University called such historical science a "fantasia".
Jay M.
You'd think after 1 and a half centuries of lying, Evolutionists would have gotten the hang of it by now. Tip number 1: Don't see Evolution behind every bone. It WILL come back to bite you when the next bone is discovered.
Don Batten
Indeed, when fairly complete skeletons are found, and not just a few bits and pieces, it is much harder to tell evolutionary stories based on the fossils. See, for example, how the story had to change with Pakicetus when an almost complete skeleton was found: in Whale evolution in Refuting Evolution.
However, I would be slow to accuse evolutionists in general of lying. Deceived, yes, but not necessarily deliberately deceiving (i.e. lying).
Brian J.
Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe with the recent discovery of a 49 myo fully aquatic whale jawbone, the Rodhocetus, along with every other supposed 'transitional' whale organism (save the Pakicetids), is all but falsified. This new find shows that fully aquatic whales were around 2 million years BEFORE the Rodhocetus even came into being.....according to the evolutionary story.

This only leaves about 1-4 million years for a fully terrestrial animal to 'evolve' into a fully aquatic animal with NO transitionals in between. Needless to say it's not very strong evidence for the evolutionary world. I don't suppose those museums will ever post that whale evolution has been falsified.

We know, of course, that the creation story fits this evidence nicely and is just God's way of further informing us that he created everything, in six days, as described in the Bible.
Jim M.
From the footnotes, it seems this discovery is already over 10 years old and yet few people know about it. Or if they do, they are keeping their mouth shut.

Thanks to CMI and other creation organizations, we have much needed help to get the facts straight.
Alex K.
Today's science is so evolved that it doesn't need facts anymore. Just goes to show how primitive creationists really are: They still use facts to make their point! Get with the program, you evil history-deniers!
Victor B.
"This information should be in the text books, taught in schools and printed and televised in the media!! ..."

Yes indeed. Such discoveries initially are pounced on with much fanfare in the media but then when later information relevant to the discoveries are revealed - all goes quiet even when it is a great information and media story.

Credit must be given to Dr Werner and Dr Philip Gingrich (in his candid admission). Thank You, Dr Batten for this article.

Curtis C.
Another one bites the dust -- why am I not surprised? At this point, faith in the future disqualification of any claimed evidence for evolution is highly justified. Thank you for this major reveal. :)
Lucy H.
This information should be in the text books, taught in schools and printed and televised in the media!! GREAT read! Thank you.

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