March 13, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Fossil Whale Already Had Echolocation

Once again, a complex trait appears fully formed and functional in the fossil record.

Science Now, PhysOrg and Live Science are all telling the same story: echolocation is apparent in a fossil whale thought to be 28 million years old.  The skull of the toothed whale (drawn by an artist to resemble a dolphin or young beluga), Cotylocara has sinus cavities consistent with the location of sonar equipment in modern whales.

To make this evolutionary, Live Science explains that it “pushes back the origins of the ability, called echolocation, to at least 32 million years ago“.  The spokesman adds, “It suggest echolocation evolved very, very early in the history of the group that involved toothed whales.” The words transition, link, and primitive are all absent from all three articles, indicating no precursors to this sonar-ous whale are known.

It’s not enough to have a sonar organ.  Science Now asks an obvious question: “But even if Cotylocara made those sounds, could it have heard them?”  Unfortunately, the ear bones of the skull are not preserved well enough to tell.  The question points out, though, that sonar must originate as a system, with both transponder and receiver functioning, to be useful—to say nothing of the brain processing to be able to use the information.

See also the 11/04/13 entry about how sonar in bats and whales is “surprisingly similar” even though the two mammals must have gained echolocation independently.  See the 6/03/10 story about how all the whales’ distinctive features would have had to evolve “in the blink of an eye.”  Back in 9/05/07, biologists were clueless about how sonar “developed” in whales, calling it a “deep question of evolution.”

So what do they know?  A fossil whale probably had working sonar.  That’s it.  Do they know it was 28 million years old?  No.  Do they know sonar evolved 32 million years ago?  No.  Do they have a sequence from primitive to complex?  No.  Do they know how both the infrasound-producing organ and the ears evolved together as a system?  No.  Do they know how random mutations could produce any integrated system?  No.  Do they know anything about the evolution of whale sonar?  No.  Are they speaking off the top of their heads?  Yes.  Why?  Because everybody knows, “Evolution is a FACT!”


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