Another Great Story about Whales

The evolutionary story of how whales came to be is a classic example of how this sort of thing shouldn’t be considered the same as science that studies things we can repeatedly observe and test, even when it seems to be having success.  From Darwin’s speculating that “something like a bear” might have taken up eating stuff in the water for generations until the practice molded them into aquatic creatures, to a scrap piece of skull producing a picture of a paddle-legged swimmer when later discoveries of more extensive fossils showed it really had long, skinny legs and probably never stuck more than its head in the water.

The latest addition to the story is the report on “Fucaia buelli,” a very small whale classified as an “aetiocetid,” one of the extinct kinds of “toothed mysticetes.” Today, mysticetes are all toothless as adults, using the filtering structures known as baleen instead. They are commonly known as baleen whales: right whales, humpback whales, blue whales, and others. Evolutionists were thrilled to find fossils of adult whales with both teeth and baleen, assuming they showed how baleen whales came to be — they evolved from toothed whales that mutated to grow baleen, then they mutated so they lost their teeth. That second stage seems reasonable enough, it’s easy for a mutation to knock out the production of something. But what about that first step?Have you ever heard of anything having a mutation that produced a strainer-like structure in its mouth, that wasn’t made of flesh or bone or teeth (dentine or enamel)? No? Then what are the odds that the one time it happened, it happened in whales? Surely if evolving fringes of keratin around the mouth was a benefit to ancient toothed whales, it could have happened to something else, right?

Mind you, evolutionists regard this case of archaic toothed whales evolving into modern baleen whales as a lovely transition, because some toothed baleen whale fossils are dated “close to the time when we see the first truly toothless mysticetes” and there are developmental and genetic traces of teeth in living baleen whales.

One might think the evolutionists would prefer the date of appearance of fossil toothed mysticetes to be quite a while before the first completely toothless ones, to give time for the evolution, but if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re misunderstanding something in a way at least one evolutionist apparently was happy to let people mistakenly assume. More on that later.

As for the traces of former teeth, evolutionists who will come up with all sorts of imaginative explanations for evolution naturally won’t put much effort into thinking how another explanation might be true, and immediately assume that  “creationists can’t explain why teeth begin to form and then disappear.”  They forget that creationists are quite happy with things having once existed and then were lost, and they assume that the only reason for the traces of teeth is an ancestor that only had teeth. Finding whales that had both teeth and baleen suggests that the ancestors of living baleen whales were created to have both, also. Perhaps they originally had just teeth or small fringes as juveniles and then lost the teeth as the baleen grew. It would only take a change in the timing of the expression of the change to get the current condition.

So, what do we learn from this new report? According to the abstract, “aetiocetids are almost exclusively Late Oligocene and coeval with both other toothed mysticetes and fully fledged filter feeders.” I hope you know that “coeval” means “at the same time.” I wonder why scientists use technical terms when plain language will do. And why “fully fledged filter feeders” instead of “extinct baleen whales”?  Anyway, you might be thinking, “Hey, if they are dated to the same time, instead of “close,” then there wouldn’t be any time at all for evolving!” Oh, but  “The new material narrows the temporal gap between aetiocetids and the oldest known mysticete, Llanocetus (ca 34?Ma).” So there IS a gap … but wait again, it sounds like making the gap smaller is a GOOD thing. There’s a good reason for that — if one of these “coeval” fossil kinds is older than the other, it’s the fossils of baleen whales that do NOT have teeth as adults! The new fossil, Fucaia buelli,  is “from the earliest Oligocene (ca 33–31?Ma) of western North America.” So if we go by the standard dating (or which strata of rocks the fossils are found in) then what we actually “see” is both kinds appearing together, not one evolving from the other, or if one is older than the other, they appear in reverse order.  Ah well, as they often have, the evolutionists appeal to “a patchy fossil record, ” that just happens to be worst just when things get most interesting.

Besides being the oldest toothed mysticete, “F. buelli is among the smallest of known mysticetes, with a size comparable with that of small odontocetes.” This brings up the question of the odds of a toothed whale having a mutation producing baleen (and just what genetic changes would it take to do that, hmm?) and if it did, why it would be preserved by natural selection until further mutations increased its size, reduced the teeth, and changed the whales’ behavior to full filter-feeding techniques. The authors of the new report suggest this one (and others) assisted its “raptorial” feeding with a suction technique, or perhaps used a suction pre-swallowing technique.  As the earlier “lovely transitional” popular-level blog says, “No evolutionist would say that baleen-feeding arose from tooth feeding in a single sudden leap.” The new scientific report also notes that having a step (or several) “to filter feeding is functionally more plausible than a direct switch from a raptorial to a filter feeding strategy.” Quite logical, but as the lead author put it (as quoted in a LiveScience article), the transition would be  “more complex.”

The original research report notes this important observation:

“The teeth of Fucaia are so large that they line the entire upper jaw, and thus simply leave no room for baleen. Wear on the teeth also shows that the upper and lower teeth sheared against each other as the mouth opened and closed; thus, any baleen that might have been present would constantly have been caught between the teeth.”

Oh, hmm, that’s interesting, we actually have a “toothed mysticete”  that didn’t have the prime feature of mysticetes. Oh, how did I not notice the quotation marks around “baleen” in the title of the research report? I suppose there are a bunch of technical similarities in the bones involved.

The LiveScience article says this new little whale  had “oversize gums,” and indicates the original report notes features that suggest the presence of large gums, but I haven’t found any mention of gums in the research report except in speculation of what might have been, and a note that “the teeth in F. buelli show no particular evidence for or against heightened gums

It looks like there’s a lot of uncertainty about some important points. Judging by Figure 18, there are a lot of whale fossils given approximately the same date (Oligocene rocks), including some reckoned more primitive on the evolutionary scale, and even “crown mysticeti” whale fossils that look like the actual ancestors of living baleen whales, not “sister” kinds that supposedly look something like what the transitional ancestors would have looked like

It looks to me as if what we really have is a bunch of different whale fossils which evolutionists line up according to shared traits, assume there were actual transitional generations similar to them, make up “maybe” stories of how one “might” have evolved into the next, tell themselves they are “just following the evidence,” and have faith that the story is all true.  Or something like it

“A new Early Oligocene toothed ‘baleen’ whale (Mysticeti: Aetiocetidae) from western North America: one of the oldest and the smallest”
Felix G. Marx, Cheng-Hsiu Tsai, R. Ewan Fordyce
Published 2 December 2015. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150476
Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution Is True” blog post, “Baleen whales: a lovely transitional form”
“Ancient Tiny Whale Hunted with Pointy Teeth, Oversize Gums”
by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer   |   December 02, 2015 09:17am ET