Evolution in the News - January 2020
by Do-While Jones

Aegicetus gehennae

Whale evolution got started on the wrong foot.

Before we review the latest chapter in the whale evolution fairy tale, let’s make a general comment to put this in perspective.

Sometimes people get started going down the wrong track. It happens to everyone. It even happens to engineers! They get an idea for a product and start to develop it. In the development phase, problems often arise. These problems need to be solved to bring the product to market. Sometimes, solving these problems turns out to be difficult—but it is worth the effort to solve them because the product will be valuable when brought to market. Sometimes solving these problems is impossible because the initial idea was fundamentally flawed. The product can never be built because it has to violate a physical law to work. A good engineer has to be able to recognize his initial mistake and give up.

Sometimes paleontologists get started on the wrong track, too. They find a bone or two, make an assumption based on that fragmentary data, and start down a path. As they find more bones, they have to modify their original assumption somewhat to match their new findings. If the original assumption was completely wrong, it becomes harder and harder to tweak it to match the new discoveries. Sooner or later, it should become apparent to the paleontologist that the initial assumption was wrong.

The difference is that when an engineer gets started on the wrong track, and realizes he was wrong, he stops before losing any more money developing a product that cannot be produced, or cannot be sold for enough profit to recover the development costs. When a paleontologist gets started on the wrong track, there is no financial motivation to stop because there is an endless supply of grant money to continue down the wrong track.

From time to time, we have noted articles which include a phrase like, “more work needs to be done to answer these questions.” Sometimes more work really does need to be done, and you should do it; but sometimes you need to realize that the path you started down leads nowhere and cut your losses.

The First Mistake

Here’s a perfect example. In 1983, Philip Gingerich found a skull in Pakistan. He made a wrong decision about that skull because he had inadequate data. If he had waited until more bones were found, he probably would not have given it the name that he did. But, based on the structure of the ear, he thought it was a whale. He named it, Pakicetus, which means “whale from Pakistan.” Now that more bones have been found, the modern artist’s rendering 1 of Pakicetus looks like this:

Would you have called this creature a whale? Of course not. But he called it a whale based on incomplete information, and the name has stuck. Since it was called a whale, it must be the first whale from which modern whales evolved. We told you the fishy whale tale in a previous newsletter. 2

The Newest Whale

With that background, we can look at the last month’s claims about whale evolution. Several on-line sources did little more than repeat the same press release. One source said,

As many readers will likely already know, the ancestors of today's whales started out as land-based animals that walked on four legs. New research now suggests that previously-discovered fossils represent an evolutionarily-important point in prehistory, at which the creatures were moving from swimming [italics theirs] with those legs to swimming with their tails. 3

Many readers don’t know whales started out as land animals; but many readers think they did.

The actual research paper was published by (no surprise) Philip D. Gingerich. Practically every article on whale evolution since 1983 has been published by Gingerich. Here is the beginning of the abstract:

Aegicetus gehennae is a new African protocetid whale based on a partial skull with much of an associated postcranial skeleton. The type specimen, Egyptian Geological Museum, Cairo [CGM] 60584, was found near the base of the early-Priabonian-age (earliest late Eocene) Gehannam Formation of the Wadi Al Hitan World Heritage Site in Egypt. 4

In our previous essay, we noted the geographical and temporal problems with whale evolution. 5 The geographical problem is that the fossils are scattered all over the globe, making it doubtful that a wolf-like creature in Pakistan evolved into whale in Louisiana, USA. Aegicetus (which means “Egypt whale”) was found in Egypt, which isn’t walking distance from Pakistan, or swimming distance from Louisiana.

The temporal problem is that the presumed evolution would have had to proceed at an unbelievable (even for evolutionists) rate. Pakicetus supposedly lived as early as 52 million years ago, and had evolved into Basilosaurus 35 to 40 million years ago. That’s just a blink of an eye to evolutionists.

Gingerich gave no firm date for Aegicetus gehennae. He assigned it to the oxymoronic “earliest late Eocene” period.

The Eocene is the second of five epochs in the Tertiary Period — the second of three epochs in the Paleogene — and lasted from about 55.8 to 33.9 million years ago. (Dates from the International Commission on Stratigraphy's International Stratigraphic Chart, 2009.) 6

So, Aegicetus could have lived at any time during the fictional whale evolutionary timeline. If it lived 48 million years ago, it would have been contemporary with Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, Rodhocetus, Indocetus, and Protocetus. The whole idea behind Darwinian evolution is survival of the fittest, where species less capable of survival are driven to extinction. All these supposed whale ancestors lived at the same time. There isn’t the clear pattern of extinction and replacement that Darwin would have expected.

Age of Aegicetus

After describing the geology of the Gehannam Formation (where the fossils were found), Gingerich says,

It is impossible at present to reconcile a micropaleontological assessment of age with the evidence from global sea level change. Placing more weight on the latter, we conclude that the age of CGM 60583 and CGM 60584 is earliest Priabonian (earliest late Eocene). 7

The dating methods disagree, so he picked the one that agreed with his desires. Specifically, he chose to go with the date based on sea level changes (caused by man-made global warming, 40 million years ago ).

The Fossils

There are only two skeletons assumed to be from Aegicetus. The first one found is a very poor specimen called CGM 60583. It consists of just two leg bones. The second is much more complete, designated as CGM 60584.

Aegicetus gehennae is known from two specimens, the initial specimen CGM 60583 found at locality WH2007-031 (Fig 2), and the holotype CGM 60584 found at locality WH-203 (Fig 2). CGM 60583 is an extremely-weathered, associated partial skeleton, for which the only elements worth collecting were a left femur and a right tibia (Fig 18). Where preserved, epiphyses of CGM 60583 are fused indicating that the specimen was mature. The holotype is the unusually complete skeleton described and illustrated here. 8

Here is a diagram of all the bones of CGM 60584 they found. 9

Since CGM 60583 is so incomplete, and CGM 60584 is only about half complete, how do they know 99 bones are missing? They just assume those other bones exist because they assume it is closely related to other protocetids. They assume it looks like what they expect an evolutionary link to look like.

Remember that the significance of this find is that it swam by moving its tail fluke up and down rather than paddling with its feet. But the bones in the tail fluke (Ca10 through Ca21) are all missing! That could be because it might not even have had a tail fluke.

Comparing CGM 60583 to CGM 60584, it is obvious that 583 is female and 584 is male. You can clearly see this by comparing the leg bones (“the only elements worth collecting”) of 583 to the leg bones of 584.

Fig 18. Sexual dimorphism in Aegicetus gehennae.
A, left femur of CGM 60584 interpreted as male, in posterior view. B, weathered left femur of CGM 60583 interpreted as female, in posterior view. C, right tibia of CGM 60583 interpreted as female, in lateral view. D, right tibia of CGM 60584 interpreted as male, in lateral view. Elements interpreted as male average 11% larger in linear dimensions than elements interpreted as female. 10

“Sexual dimorphism” is the politically correct way of saying that men are bigger than women. Since the only comparable bones of 583 and 584 are the leg bones, the fact that 584 is 11% bigger than 583 proves he was the big boss daddy!

[start sarcasm mode] Since these four bones are so distinctive in shape , there is absolutely no possibility that they came from any creature other than Aegicetus gehennae. (You’ve never seen any leg bones even remotely like these, have you? ) Actually, leg bones from many different species look very much alike. (But that’s because they all evolved from a common ancestor! ) It takes the keen eye of an evolutionist to see the difference with absolute certainty. [end sarcasm mode]

Seriously, a 5 foot 8˝ inch tall man has leg bones 11% shorter than a 6 foot 5 inch man. An 11% difference in height in men isn’t unusual. To claim that 583 is female and 584 is male, based on nothing more than measurements of leg bones, is unwarranted and irresponsible. The sample size is just 2, which isn’t statistically significant.

Since 583 consists of so few bones, and those few bones aren’t very well preserved, and the leg bones aren’t really much different from the leg bones of many other animals, it is possible that 583 and 584 aren’t even the same species.

Is it a Protocetid?

The abstract says,

CGM 60584 has two more rib-bearing thoracic vertebrae than other known protocetids, and two fewer lumbars. Sacral centra are unfused, and there is no defined auricular surface on the ilium. Thus there was no weight-bearing sacroiliac joint. The sternum is distinctive in being exceptionally broad and flat. The body weight of CGM 60584, a putative male, is estimated to have been about 890 kg in life. Long bones of the fore and hind limbs are shorter than expected for a protocetid of this size. ...

Aegicetus differs from all protocetids for which the cranium is known in having a relatively narrow cranium with short and downwardly-deflected exoccipital processes on the posterior surface of the braincase (see illustration in Discussion). 11

We suspect that if CGM 60584 had been used in an argument against evolution, the defense offered by evolutionists would be, “CGM 60584 has two more rib-bearing thoracic vertebrae than other known protocetids, and two fewer lumbars, and long bones of the fore and hind limbs are shorter than expected for a protocetid of this size. Besides, its skull is shaped differently from all other protocetid skulls, so it obviously isn’t a protocetid!

Since it is used as evidence for evolution, these discrepancies are not only overlooked, they are used as evidence of evolution. It isn’t like any protocetid they have ever seen, so it must have evolved from a protocetid!

They have a story, and they have some bones, and are desperately trying to make them match.

Gingerich’s speculation about Aegicetus being the bridge between dog-paddling whale ancestors and fluke-propelled whale ancestors is just based on speculation about why various bones are the size and shape they are, and the presumed existence of tail bones that could not be found.

Something Odd

There is something odd about Gingerich’s article, which may be significant. We didn’t mention it earlier because we didn’t want to unduly prejudice you before you read the article and could judge the content for yourself. We hope that you have already judged the article based on content.

There is another point that doesn’t really have anything to do with the fossils. It has to do with how academics evaluate articles apart from the content. The Gingerich article is odd from an academic perspective.

Academics tend to judge papers based on who wrote the paper, what degree the author has, where the degree was granted, and where the paper was published. From an academic perspective, if a paper was written by someone famous, with an advanced degree from a prestigious university, and published in a peer-reviewed journal, then it must be true and must be accepted without question. (We are only half joking. We would use a half-smiley face emoji if we had one.)

That’s why it seems odd to us that this paper was published in PLOS ONE instead of Nature or Science. The latter two are the most respected scientific journals. PLOS ONE prides itself on being “open” to everyone. 12 Our impression of PLOS ONE is that it is an outlaw journal with outlaw peer reviewers. Unlike Science or Nature, you don’t have to join the association to read the journal. You can read PLOS ONE for free.

Even I might be able to get a paper published on PLOS ONE—but there is no way I could get an article published in Nature or Science, simply because I don’t have the right degree from the right university.

We don’t know why Gingerich published this paper in PLOS ONE instead of one of the usual, more prestigious places. Perhaps he wanted wider distribution. This might explain why he sent press releases to several Internet sites. 13 On the other hand, he might have been rejected by Science or Nature. If so, it might have been because those journals thought the article just wasn’t important enough to publish. I wish that were true—but I doubt it. The most likely reason, in my opinion, is that somebody important has a personal bone to pick with Gingerich and has blackballed him.

The point we want to make, as we have made many times before, is that you should judge everything you read on the basis of content rather than authorship. If you examine the content of articles about evolution, you will find that the evolutionary conclusions just aren’t reasonable.

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1 http://spinops.blogspot.com/ from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakicetus
2 Disclosure, August 1999, “In a Whale of Trouble”
3 Ben Coxworth, New Atlas, December 12, 2019, “Important prehistoric whale was neither a foot- nor a tail-swimmer”, https://newatlas.com/biology/prehistoric-whale-aegicetus-gehennae/
4 PLOS, December 11, 2019, “Aegicetus gehennae, a new late Eocene protocetid (Cetacea, Archaeoceti) from Wadi Al Hitan, Egypt, and the transition to tail-powered swimming in whales”, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0225391&fbclid=IwAR0dXeoHJyYgHCb37QvHBUQ4jNVbHSrk_xHKDvMdcBjEjfww2jy1k08mcfk
5 Disclosure, August 1999, “In a Whale of Trouble”
6 https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/tertiary/eocene.php
7 PLOS, December 11, 2019, “Aegicetus gehennae, a new late Eocene protocetid (Cetacea, Archaeoceti) from Wadi Al Hitan, Egypt, and the transition to tail-powered swimming in whales”, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0225391&fbclid=IwAR0dXeoHJyYgHCb37QvHBUQ4jNVbHSrk_xHKDvMdcBjEjfww2jy1k08mcfk
8 ibid.
9 ibid.
10 ibid.
11 ibid.
12 https://www.plos.org/
13 A day or two after publication in PLOS ONE there were nearly identical press releases at https://newatlas.com/biology/prehistoric-whale-aegicetus-gehennae/, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191211145628.htm , https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-12/p-ane120419.php , and http://www.sci-news.com/paleontology/aegicetus-gehennae-07905.html .