September 18, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Fossils Defy Slow, Gradual Deposition Over Long Ages

What do a virus and a whale have in common? They didn’t fossilize slowly a long time ago.

Whale Tale

Science Magazine claims that a fossilized whale sank to the seafloor and was buried. Problem: it still had its last meal in its mouth. Sid Perkins writes,

The rocks that entombed the partial remains of the whale (Messapicetus gregarius, depicted in an artist’s reconstruction, above) accumulated as sea-floor sediments between 8.9 million and 9.9 million years ago, other fossils in the rocks suggest. The whale’s remains would be largely unremarkable if not for the large number of sardinelike fish preserved inside its chest cavity and around its head. Because scales of the fish show few signs of being exposed to stomach acid, the fish must have been consumed  shortly before the whale died and sank to the sea floor, the researchers report online today in the  Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Scales of such fish are rarely preserved in the rocks of that area, so those fish (which likely fed at or near the ocean’s surface, as their modern kin do) probably are the remains of the whale’s last meal and were expelled from the carcass as decomposition bloated the whale’s gut, the researchers propose. The size of the whale’s last meal—somewhere between 40 and 60 fish averaging 39 centimeters in length and together weighing between 16 and 25 kilograms—generally matches a stomach full of fish consumed by similar-sized modern-day relatives.

How can Perkins say that this “sheds light on the evolution of beaked whales as well as their competition”? He claims that “dolphins appeared on the scene” soon after the whale died, driving this type of beaked whale to deeper waters. Whatever light he is seeing is pretty dim, though, because no one witnessed what the first dolphins ate or where they foraged. He can’t prove that this kind of whale did not eat sardinelike fish part of the time, or that sardinelike fish only lived in dolphin habitats, or that dolphins and beaked whales didn’t share their favorite food.

He also fails to explain how the whale was partially entombed in rock on the seafloor, or how the small fish were preserved. Normally, worms and other marine animals make quick work of fallen carcasses. If the fish “show few signs of being exposed to stomach acid,” maybe the burial happened too rapidly for digestion to take place.

Virus Resurrection

Live Science reports that a giant virus found in Siberian permafrost is “still infectious after 30,000 years.” The virus was found in a soil sample 98 feet below the surface. If so, its DNA must still be intact—enough DNA to code for 500 proteins.  The virus poses no danger to humans, Stephanie Pappas writes, but other viruses brought to the surface by drilling might.

Pappas quotes a scientist who claims that “viruses played a role in making the cell evolve in a very good way,” even though, admittedly, nobody knows when they appeared on the Earth. “The researchers don’t know when giant viruses emerged on Earth, but they probably have roots in the very origins of DNA and RNA,” the scientist said. From there, it was a short hop to speculating about the origin of life:

“We do think that these giant viruses will help us understand how life appeared on Earth,” she [Chantal Abergel] said. “We think there are so many genes which are unique to those genomes, and there are many things to learn from the study of those genes.”

The question not asked was how this DNA could survive 30,000 years. “The discoveries of the giant viruses reveal that they can remain infectious for at least tens of thousands of years” is a conclusion based on the assumption of its age.  The rapid decomposition of DNA would seem to cast doubt on that assumption; a 2012 entry on The Scientist says that the half-life of DNA is 521 years; i.e., in 521 years, half of the nucleotide bonds would be broken. While the lifetime might be extended for DNA in permafrost, it’s doubtful it could be stretched over 30 times that value so that the virus could still be infectious.

Much damage to science (and to common sense) is done by the unquestioned belief in long ages and uniformitarianism. Looking at both these instances without the assumption of long ages leads one to infer catastrophic burial for the whale and recent burial for the virus. Why are those inferences off limits? Why must reporters and scientists force these into the Darwinian timeline? Maintaining the Darwin scenario calls for mountains of speculation built on paltry evidence, while important questions remain offstage.

More Darwin hocus-pocus is focused in these stories. Dolphins “appeared”. Viruses “emerged”. In the process, common sense disappeared and submerged.

 

 

 

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