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The Biggest Sea Animals: Whaling for Evolution


You don’t just grow a whale by adding cells to a cow or wolf. The cells needed to support a massive animal, besides being increased by orders of magnitude, must be precisely organized. Entire body systems must be redesigned for life in the water. Let’s consider very large sea creatures, some living and some extinct, and see how Darwinians try to explain them.

Whales justly excite our admiration. Recently, a passenger was enjoying a ride on Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari (featured in Illustra’s film Living Waters), and snapped a great photo: a rainbow produced by a humpback whale as it sent a fountain of spray out its blowhole. Live Science published the photo, titling the occasion, “Whale Sneezes Rainbow, Proving Nature is Beautiful and Weird.” As we look at news about some of the largest sea creatures that ever lived, we might justify changing that headline to “Nature is Beautiful; Evolution Is Weird.”

Baleen Evolution

Humpbacks are baleen whales, using fibrous strands to filter their food instead of teeth. Jeremy Jackson starts our evolutionary whale hunt in Science Magazine with a Darwinesque article, “On the evolution of baleen whales.” 

Baleen whales include the largest animals that have ever lived, but their evolutionary history has been difficult to decipher because of conflicting evidence from genes and morphology. Árnason et al. conducted whole-genome sequencing of the blue whale and five other baleen species to reconstruct their evolutionary history in detail. All existing species originated within the past 10 million years as global climates progressively cooled toward the poles. Taxonomic relationships are complicated by evidence of gene flow and hybridization among species facilitated by the absence of geographic barriers. Speciation occurred within an interwoven network of co-occurring lineages, rather than the classical Darwinian pattern of bifurcating trees that is characteristic of most animals. [Emphasis added.]

Conflicting evidence, complicated relationships, gene flow and hybridization: this is not the story Darwin told. We’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination whether global climates, cooling toward the poles, caused the “origination” of anything, let alone whales.

Jazz Evolution

Humpbacks are not the only singers. National Geographic reported recently on the “amazing, wild sounds” made by bowhead whales, which reporter Carrie Arnold calls the “jazz musicians of the sea.” These 60-footer baleen whales that live in the Arctic sing up a storm. Their songs are to humpbacks what jazz is to Bach, she writes. 

Recordings made by marine biologists led by Kate Stafford at the University of Washington show rapid changes and improvisations that change in one season. We know that Bach’s music is intelligently designed. Can Darwin explain the jazzy songs of the bowhead whale? “Stafford still doesn’t know why these songs are so diverse, nor what purpose the song serves.” Maybe Stafford should look into W. Ford Doolittle’s mechanism for evolution: “It’s the song, not the singer.”

Blue Whale Evolution

Now, we should get some evolution data! Recently, Science Daily reports, European teams sequenced the genome of the blue whale (the largest animal that ever lived, in the 100-foot range). They compared it to the genes of other rorquals (the largest group of baleen whales, including the humpback and right whales). Did they find a Darwinian pattern?

Surprisingly, the genomes show that rorquals have been hybridizing during their evolutionary history. In addition, rorquals seem to have separated into different species in the absence of geographical barriers. This phenomenon, called sympatric speciation, is very rare in animals….

Now new research highlights that the evolution of these extraordinary animals and other rorquals was also anything but ordinary.

We also read in the open-access paper in Science Advances that “Reconstructing the evolution of baleen whales (Mysticeti) has been problematic because morphological and genetic analyses have produced different scenarios.” As we saw earlier, hybridization and “interwoven network of co-occurring lineages” are the norm, not the “classical Darwinian pattern” of branching trees.

Ichthyosaur Evolution

Some extinct marine reptiles competed with the blue whale in size. Bones from a massive ichthyosaur, an estimated 85 feet long, have been found in southwestern England, National Geographic says. Reporter John Pickrell doesn’t mention evolution at all. He points out, though, a remarkable case of convergence: these giants have “body shapes superficially similar to dolphins.”

At The Conversation, Dean Lomax from the University of Manchester describes “How we found a giant ichthyosaur almost as big as a blue whale.” Maybe he can tell us how this creature evolved. No, again; no mention of evolution, just details about how the found the bones and identified them. 

Mosasaur Evolution

Maybe a Darwinian pattern will turn up in mosasaurs, another family of extinct marine reptiles with body shapes similar to sharks. They were powerful swimmers and gave birth to live young, becoming predominant in the Cretaceous after many of the ichthyosaurs went extinct. They perished along with the last of the dinosaurs. An international expert on mosasaurs, Takuya Konishi, will surely be able to tell us about their evolution, won’t he? We search the article on Phys.org with desperate hope:

Mosasaurs are more closely related to snakes and lizards than dinosaurs. While mosasaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, other marine reptiles from that time, such as sea turtles, persisted. By learning more about mosasaurs, we can understand evolutionary processes such as extinction that influence species today, Konishi said.

Is extinction an “evolutionary process”? Is persistence an evolutionary process? Darwin won’t get very far building giant swimmers from bacteria at that rate. The main thing Konishi is able to talk about is their diet. They probably ate fish, he says.

“There are still many things from basic taxonomy to physiology to paleobiological questions we have about mosasaurs,” Konishi said.

One of those questions must surely be about how they originated by a blind, Darwinian process.

Wikipedia, of all places, should be a reliable defender of evolution. Under “evolutionary history” on mosasaurs, however, they put forth a theory that mosasaurs share a common ancestor with marine snakes. Then they shoot it down. After evolutionists believed that for over a century, we read that new fossils “cast doubt on the marine origin hypothesis.” We challenge anyone willing to read the lengthy, jargon-rich, three-paragraph explanation to find anything solid. It’s a maybe-this, maybe-that search for the common ancestor, with incredible diversions into convergence or parallel evolution. Everything is disputed.

The meatiest statement is, “The exact phylogenetic position of the clade containing mosasaurids and their closest relatives … remains uncertain.” The elephant in the room is the big question: how does one turn a snake or monitor lizard into a mosasaur? 

Photo: A humpback whale, by Christopher Michel, via Flickr.