California Whale Fossils: Transitional Forms?

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Posted on February 18, 2013 in Darwin and Evolution, Dating Methods, Fossils, Mammals, Marine Biology

Several fossil whale parts found in a southern California canyon are being called transitional forms in whale evolution.

The article on Science NOW doesn’t say “transitional” in the headline or first half of the story, but the RSS feed subtitle says, “Road project reveals transitional forms to modern toothless whales.”  The word “transitional” only appears once in the article, and that without certainty: “Thus, they aren’t ancestral to any of the living whales, but they could represent transitional steps on the way to the toothless mysticetes [baleen whales].”

What was actually found tells a more convoluted story.  Some 30 partial whale fossils were found in a Laguna Canyon road cut, including four newly-identified species of “toothed baleen whale—a type of whale that scientists thought had gone extinct 5 million years earlier.”

Also found were fossils of sharks and other ocean dwellers.  None of the others were called transitional forms.  Some other statements in the article cast doubt on the evolutionary implications of the whale fossils:

  • The four new toothed baleen whale species were also four huge surprises.…”
  • These three, along with the fourth new species, which is of a different genus, represent the last known occurrence of aetiocetes, a family of mysticetes that coexisted with early baleen whales. Thus, they aren’t ancestral to any of the living whales, but they could represent transitional steps on the way to the toothless mysticetes.
  • Three of the fossils belong to the genus Morawanocetus, which is familiar to paleontologists studying whale fossils from Japan, but hadn’t been seen before in California.”  [No evolution there; and it is obvious that whales can swim long distances.]
  • The fourth new species—dubbed ‘Willy’—has its own surprises, Rivin says. Although modern baleen whales are giants, that’s a fairly recent development (in the last 10 million years). But Willy was considerably bigger than the three Morawanocetus fossils.” [This seems to be a case of downward evolution and early appearance of giantism.]
  • The new fossils are a potentially exciting find, says paleobiologist Nick Pyenson of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Although it’s not yet clear what Rivin’s team has got and what the fossils will reveal about early baleen whale evolution, he says, ‘I’ll be excited to see what they come up with.’”

In sum, it appears that the 30 fossils show already-familiar types of whales, an early giant, and an extinction that wasn’t as early as expected.  If this is “potentially exciting” only, and is not clear what it “will reveal about early baleen whale evolution,” there is really nothing new here to support the theory of whale evolution.

They got us up for this?  Come on.  Finding whale fossils is always exciting, but finding whale evolution is only “potentially exciting” to believers in the Grand Darwinian Myth, because it’s always in future tense.  An unrealized potential is a frustrating thing.  You are potentially rich.  You are potentially famous.  When and if those things become actual, then it will be time to get excited.

 

 


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