June 3, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Whale Evolution: Hurry Up and Wait

Whales evolved really fast, then just swam around with nothing to do for tens of millions of years.  “Whales Evolved in the Blink of an Eye” wrote Brett Israel for Live Science about a new study that claims “Whales evolved explosively fast into a spectacular array of shapes and sizes” about 35 million years ago, but then pretty much stopped evolving for 25 million years thereafter.
    Over a period of 5 million years, “like the blink of an eye” according to Graham Slater of UCLA, something dramatic happened: “whale evolution ignited.  Whales began as basically similar body types and evolved into everything from porpoises to blue whales over the next 5 million years,” Brett Israel wrote.  This is known as the “explosive radiation hypothesis” (kind of like a big bang in whale origins).  With this package came all kinds of goodies like sonar, large brains, baleen filtering systems, and complex sociality.  How?  By evolution, silly; or as teens like to say, whatever.  “Whatever conditions allowed modern whales to persist allowed them to evolve into unique, disparate modes of life, and those niches largely have been maintained throughout most of their history.”  That’s Michael Alfaro talking.  He’s an evolutionist at UCLA, too.  He’s an expert.  He should know.
    So let’s get this “explosive radiation hypothesis” straight.  A dog-size mammal walks into the sea some 48 million years ago and starts blubbering, becoming some kind of generic whale by 35 million years ago.  Then, within a blink of an eye (5 million years), we get blue whales, right whales, sperm whales, porpoises, dolphins, baleen whales, “exploding” into the oceans, by, whatever.  Something gave them sonar, large brains, baleen and complex sociality.  What was it?  Evolution.  Wasn’t evolution supposed to consist of the gradual accumulation of numerous, successive, slight modifications?  Whatever.  OK, then what happened?  “Those differences were probably in place by 25 million years ago, at the latest, and for many millions of years, they have not changed very much,” Slater said.  Will that be on the test? 

Environmentalists should be outraged.  The conditions that allowed for this spectacular evolution of whales “have been maintained” for 25 million years.  By whom?  Who is responsible for this intolerable status quo?  Life is languishing.  Species are going extinct.  Life needs to evolve or perish!  (They can’t blame humans, because Homo had not evolved yet; sorry, ACLU.)  What a fine kettle of fish this is.  Mother Nature has left the whales in a stagnant ocean where they can no longer evolve, and we can’t blame the humans.  Evolution was to be a constant fluid stream of change.  Darwin is all red-faced over there, angry at his UCLA supporters talking about “explosive radiation” instead of gradual change.
    Take a moment to savor this wonderfully elegant theory that Charlie Dearest (07/18/2006, 07/03/2007) brought to mankind.  Realize that whale evolution has often been presented by his disciples as one of the best examples.  Yes, it certainly is.

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