The Valley of the Whales
A famous desert—full of marine fossils!
On an orientation trip, in advance of tours by CMI to see the amazing archaeology of ancient Egypt, I took an adventurous side trip into the Sahara.1 I ventured along many unpaved roads, often making detours into the sand itself, to see the renowned Valley of the Whales (Wadi Al-Hitan in Arabic—fig. 1). One immediately understands that the Sahara has one of the most arid and desolate climates in the world. Yet over 1,000 whale fossils have been found at Wadi Al-Hitan (WAH).2 Located about 150 km southwest of Cairo, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.3 So, how did hundreds of fossil whales (fig. 2) end up in the middle of a barren desert?
A time capsule for evolutionary history?
In the grand scheme of evolution, the legs of land-based animals developed as they left the oceans. But some later lost these limbs when they chose to return to the ocean—among them whales. In terms of recording these alleged transitions, the WAH has been described as “the most important site in the world to demonstrate one of the iconic changes that make up the record of life on Earth.” 4 “An Egyptian desert, once an ocean, holds the secret to one of evolution’s most remarkable transformations.” 5
The most common whale fossils found at the site belong to a suborder known as the Archaeoceti (‘ancient whales’), and species such as Basilosaurus and Dorudon feature prominently (fig. 3). It is claimed that these more slender-type whales are transitional forms, due to the presence of tiny ‘hind legs’ and the structure and alignment of teeth in some species. Given that basilosaurs grew to 20 metres (66 ft), these alleged vestigial hind legs are, relatively, tiny—the largest were only c. 35 cm (14 inches) long.
Even Philip Gingerich, the renowned promoter of many alleged whale-evolution ‘transitional forms’ (and chief paleontologist of the WAH site) once said of the ‘legs’, “It seems to me that they could only have been some kind of sexual and reproductive clasper.”6 In other words, they were fully functional and not vestigial (useless remnants of past evolution) at all.
CMI’s view that the basilosaurs are just extinct marine mammals is also shared by some evolutionists. Vertebrate paleontologist Barbara Jaffe Stahl (1930–2004) said, “The serpentine form of the body and the peculiar shape of the cheek teeth make it plain that these archaeocetes [the basilosaurids] could not possibly have been the ancestor of modern whales” [emphasis added].7
A marine graveyard
Numerous other marine fossils are found in this area. They include sharks and rays, crocodiles (fig. 4), dugongs, sea urchins, giant catfish, and over 60 shelled mollusk species. The shells of marine organisms known as nummulites (fig. 5) are in abundance here, as well as across much of the Sahara, including the Giza Plateau, where the great pyramids are located. (See box The pyramids—a testimony to Noah’s Flood below.)
Evidence abounds that the Valley of the Whales was once sea floor. However, evolutionists and creationists have differing views on the history of this area. Evolutionists claim that the floor of the ancient Tethys Sea8 was pushed up very slowly due to tectonic activity about 35–40 million years ago, causing the water to retreat off the land. Creationists would suggest that such tectonic uplift occurred rapidly during Noah’s Flood. While the creatures could have been buried during the Flood, another scenario is that the creatures were buried as a result of post-Flood runoff during the Ice Age buildup, as lower ocean levels caused the Tethys Sea to drain off the land. The exact cause is uncertain, but the evolutionary story has massive problems, as follows.
Just-so stories of preservation
UNESCO says, “The fossils which range from young to old individuals in a great concentration of specimens, are so well preserved that even some stomach contents are intact.”9 Yet signage at the WAH display centre claims, “When these creatures died, their bodies sank to the bottom and were covered with sediments” [over millions of years]. Of course, this is not how the real world works. Many marine creatures can float for brief periods when they die, but even if and when they do sink to the bottom, we all know that predators get to work quickly on disposing of any remains.10 But at WAH there are many exquisitely preserved fossils. The idea that lots of creatures died individually over long periods of time, and all managed to be wholly preserved does not make sense. This area looks like a huge 200 km2 rapid and mass burial graveyard.
Additionally, signage claims that the roots of fossilized mangroves are also commonly found. Mangroves are a diverse group of salt-tolerant tree species, but they typically grow in shallow shoreline areas. So, it is not reasonable to assume the same ‘sinking to the bottom’ hypothesis that is used to explain other fossils in the same location. However, we would agree with evolutionists that the whole area was once a shallow bay, most likely used by basilosaurs as a calving area. Many sharks, rays, and whales breed in shallow waters. This would also explain why so many basilosaurs are located in one area. Hundreds of them were rapidly overtaken by huge volumes of sediment and buried, which explains why they are superbly preserved.
Contemporary creatures in the sandstone layers
Many of the fossils found at WAH are almost identical to living creatures today, such as crocodiles and dugongs. Although their fossils have been classified as different species, they are just variations of their biblical kind, as we see with many living creatures today. The different species names are just a deference to the belief that they lived millions of years ago and that therefore they cannot be the same as species alive today. The fact that very ‘modern-looking’ creatures are buried along with extinct basilosaurs makes sense, since the basilosaurs are not some primordial ancestor of whales that lived millions of years ago.
No evolution of some creatures
Signage in the display centre proclaims, “Adapt or die”, reasoning that a changing climate caused vertebrate land animals to retreat back to the ocean to survive. But another sign conversely claims that crocodiles have remained relatively unchanged for 240 million years (stasis) due to being more or less perfectly ‘evolved’ to suit their environment. It’s hard to see how it can be both. If the environment is changing, causing other creatures to evolve better ways of surviving, then it makes little sense why crocodiles would remain unchanged under this ‘adapt or die’ scenario.
Erosion is occurring too fast
The title page shows the sandstone hills and sand dunes that dominate the landscape. In deference again to slow geological processes, National Geographic commented that “… all the while the wind continued its patient excavation. Then one day Philip Gingerich showed up to finish the job.” However, one only needs to touch these dunes and interestingly shaped outcrops to see how soft and crumbly (fig. 6) they are. “Hundreds of buried fossil skeletons that have been lying trapped for millennia in sandstone formations of the ancient sea are being exposed by the wind …”11 But this claim refers to observably fast erosional processes. If these formations are being shaped and eroded before our eyes, then surely after an alleged 35+ million years, they would have eroded away completely. This is one of the major problems with the view that this fossil site is tens of millions of years old.
Of course, without such vast time spans, the whole idea of land animals evolving into whales is further exposed for the imaginary story it is. Touted as a testament to evolution, the Valley of the Whales is in fact anything but.
The pyramids—a testimony to Noah’s Flood
Surface rocks in Egypt are mainly comprised of sandstone and limestone. These are sedimentary rocks that are typically formed under water, and the abundant marine fossils found within them are evidence of this. On the Giza plateau near Cairo, the three great pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure are comprised of millions of limestone blocks commonly known as ‘nummulite limestone’ due to the abundance of the shells of these large, single-celled organisms. These were coin-sized protozoa that grew in flat spiral shapes (fig. 5). The stone blocks of the pyramids exist because of, and are a testimony to, Noah’s Flood.1
References and notes
- Locally, Egyptians do not refer to the ‘Sahara Desert’. In Arabic, sahra means desert. Locals simply refer to it as al sahra which means ‘the desert’. Of course, everyone knows which desert they are referring to. Return to text.
- Mueller, T., Valley of the Whales, National Geographic 218(2):118–137, Aug 2010. Return to text.
- Surprisingly, the site does not attract a huge number of visitors, probably due to the many kilometres of rough, unpaved roads one must drive on to get there. Return to text.
- Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley), world-heritage-datasheets.unep-wcmc.org, July 2005, last updated May 2011. Return to text.
- Mueller, ref. 2. Return to text.
- The Press Enterprise, 1 July 1990, A–15. Cited in Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, chapter 5. Return to text.
- Stahl, B.J., Vertebrate History: Problems in Evolution, McGraw-Hill, USA, 1974, p. 489. Cited in Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, chapter 5. Return to text.
- The remnants of this possible belt of seas can be seen on the margins of North Africa and Southern Europe today. Many creationists believe this existed immediately after the Flood when sea levels were higher before the Ice Age started, and that they never fully recovered their former depths, because there are still vast amounts of water locked up in glacial ice. Alternatively, this could be a late-Flood formation or a combination of the two. Return to text.
- Mueller, ref. 2. Return to text.
- See e.g. Walker, T., Whale explodes fossil theory, Creation 24(2):25–27, 2002; creation.com/explodewhale. Return to text.
- Iskander, L., The Valley of the Whales, touregypt.net, undated. Return to text.