Evolution News

“Vestigial” whale, dolphin hip bones actually needed for, um, reproduction

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dolphin hip bones/USC Photo, Gus Ruelas

From ScienceDaily:

Whales and dolphins need their hips, it turns out. The bones that we used to believe were vestigial turn out to be important to reproduction. The muscles that control a cetacean’s penis — which has a high degree of mobility — attach directly to its pelvic bones. As such, it made sense to researchers that the pelvic bones could affect the level of control over the penis that an individual cetacean has, perhaps offering an evolutionary advantage.

“Everyone’s always assumed that if you gave whales and dolphins a few more million years of evolution, the pelvic bones would disappear. But it appears that’s not the case,” said Matthew Dean, assistant professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and co-corresponding author of a paper on the research that was published online by Evolution on Sept. 3.

“Our research really changes the way we think about the evolution of whale pelvic bones in particular, but more generally about structures we call ‘vestigial.’ As a parallel, we are now learning that our appendix is actually quite important in several immune processes, not a functionally useless structure,” Dean said.

It took them a while to find the bones, because they tended not to be kept, as they were believed to be vestigial.

Maybe it will turn out that there are hardly any vestigial structures at all … Just as lots of vestigial organs would prove that Darwinian evolution is true, not finding any would also prove that it is true.

Isn’t that the sign of a strong theory?


Male genitalia evolve rapidly, probably as a result of sexual selection. Whether this pattern extends to the internal infrastructure that influences genital movements remains unknown. Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) offer a unique opportunity to test this hypothesis: since evolving from land-dwelling ancestors, they lost external hind limbs and evolved a highly reduced pelvis which seems to serve no other function except to anchor muscles that maneuver the penis. Here we create a novel morphometric pipeline to analyze the size and shape evolution of pelvic bones from 130 individuals (29 species) in the context of inferred mating system. We present two main findings: 1) males from species with relatively intense sexual selection (inferred by relative testes size) have evolved relatively large penises and pelvic bones compared to their body size, and 2) pelvic bone shape diverges more quickly in species pairs that have diverged in inferred mating system. Neither pattern was observed in the anterior-most pair of vertebral ribs, which served as a negative control. This study provides evidence that sexual selection can affect internal anatomy that controls male genitalia. These important functions may explain why cetacean pelvic bones have not been lost through evolutionary time.

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19 Replies to ““Vestigial” whale, dolphin hip bones actually needed for, um, reproduction

  1. 1
    ppolish says:

    Why aren’t the rats jumping off the H.M.S NeoDarwin? That is exactly what Darwin would have predicted. Heck, he probably witnessed some rat jumping back in the day.
    Swimming for shore. Swimming like their lives depended on it.

    But the rats aboard the H.M.S. NeoDarwin will go down with the ship. Grrr. On their way to Davey’s Locker. Darwin would be puzzled. Not the first time.

  2. 2
    Dionisio says:

    Isn’t that the sign of a strong theory?

    The physically stronger bully on the block tells the weaker kids:
    Heads – I win. Tails – you lose. Deal?
    They all have to accept his rules, or else… 🙁

  3. 3
    tjguy says:

    If evolution doesn’t find a way to handle contradictory evidence, it would never stand a chance so it has to be flexible enough to encompass any and all findings.

    It’s like convergent evolution and divergent evolution. No matter what, it is chalked up as a victory for evolution.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    a few notes:

    Whale Evolution vs. The Actual Evidence – video – fraudulent fossils revealed

    Making up missing links with plaster and body parts from other creatures – April 2014
    Excerpt: The two scientists who found the lion’s share of walking whale fossils essentially created the best fossil proof of evolution using plaster models and drawings and supplied these to museums and science magazines. In each case, they started with incomplete fossils of a land mammal. Whenever a fossil part was missing, they substituted a whale body part (blowholes, fins and flukes) on the skeletal model or skull that they distributed to museums. When these same scientists later found fossils negating their original interpretations, they did not recall the plaster models or drawings. Now museums are full of skulls and skeletons of ‘walking whales’ that are simply false.” Dr. Werner went on to say, “I suspect some curators are not aware of the significance of these substitutions nor are they aware of the updated fossils. Museums should now remove all of the altered skeletons, skulls and drawings since the most important parts of these ‘walking whales’ are admittedly made up. Museums will also have to delete these images from their websites as they are misleading the public.” –
    Whale Tale Two
    Excerpt: We think that the most logical interpretation of the Pakicetus fossils are that they represent land-dwelling mammals that didn’t even have teeth or ears in common with modern whales. This actually pulls the whale evolution tree out by the roots. Evolutionists are back to the point of not having any clue as to how land mammals could possibly have evolved into whales.

    Ambulocetus (circa 49 million years ago)
    Excerpt: Of all the supposed whale transitions, ambulocetus is probably the most well known. It is often depicted as an animal that is adapted to living on land and in the water. Of course, just like pakicetus, the artistic reconstructions of ambulocetus go beyond what the fossil findings justify.

    Whale Evolution Vs. Population Genetics – Richard Sternberg PhD. in Evolutionary Biology – video

    Evolution And Probabilities: A Response to Jason Rosenhouse – August 2011
    Excerpt: The equations of population genetics predict that – assuming an effective population size of 100,000 individuals per generation, and a generation turnover time of 5 years – according to Richard Sternberg’s calculations and based on equations of population genetics applied in the Durrett and Schmidt paper, that one may reasonably expect two specific co-ordinated mutations to achieve fixation in the timeframe of around 43.3 million years. When one considers the magnitude of the engineering fete, such a scenario is found to be devoid of credibility.

    If the impossibility of what Dr. Sternberg outlined in the video was not bad enough for neo-Darwinists, the time frame for the hypothetical transition to whales has now been dramatically shortened:

    A Whale of a Problem for Evolution: Ancient Whale Jawbone Found in Antartica – JonathanM – October 2011
    Excerpt: Argentine paleontologist Marcelo Reguero said the fossilized archaeocete jawbone found in February dates back 49 million years. In evolutionary terms, that’s not far off from the fossils of even older proto-whales from 53 million years ago that have been found,,,

    Moreover, as with all other fossil lineages in the fossil record, it is found that overall stasis is the norm once fully aquatic whales appeared in the fossil record:

    How Whales Have (NOT) Changed Over 35 Million Years – May 2010
    Excerpt: We could have found that the main whale lineages over time each experimented with being large, small and medium-sized and that all the dietary forms appeared throughout their evolution, or that whales started out medium-sized and the largest and smallest ones appeared more recently—but the data show none of that. Instead, we find that the differences today were apparent very early on.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Berlinski would like a ‘ballpark figure’ from Darwinists as to an actual mathematical quantification of what it would take to change a mammal into a whale 🙂

    What Does It take To Change A Cow Into A Whale – David Berlinski – video

    Whale Evolution? Darwinist ‘Trawlers’ Have Every Reason To Be Concerned:
    Excerpt: As one review noted: “The anatomical structure, biological function, and way of life of whales are so distinctly different from those of terrestrial mammals that they cannot possibly have evolved from the latter by small genetic changes; aquatics require the simultaneous presence of all their complex features to survive.”

    Of related interest

    Common Design in Bat and Whale Echolocation Genes? – January 2011
    Excerpt: two new studies in the January 26th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, show that bats’ and whales’ remarkable ability and the high-frequency hearing it depends on are shared at a much deeper level than anyone would have anticipated — all the way down to the molecular level.

    Bat Evolution? – No Transitional Fossils! – video

    Here is a cool animated video (per Drew Berry) showing a sperm whale using ‘designed’ echolocation to hunt a giant squid:

    Sperm Whale Vs Giant Squid – video

    as well, this ‘discovery’ of pelvic bones in whales is not recent, but has been known about for a while. (i.e. another myth that Darwinists refused to let die!)

    An Email Exchange Regarding “Vestigial Legs” Pelvic Bones in Whales by Jim Pamplin
    Excerpt: The pelvic bones (supposed Vestigial Legs) of whales serve as attachments for the musculature associated with the penis in males and its homologue, the clitoris, in females. The muscle involved is known as the ischiocavernosus and is quite a powerful muscle in males. It serves as a retractor muscle for the penis in copulation and probably provides the base for lateral movements of the penis. The mechanisms of penile motion are not well understood in whales. The penis seems to be capable of a lot of independent motion, much like the trunk of an elephant. How much of this is mediated by the ischiocavernosus is not known.
    In females the anatomical parts are smaller and more diffuse. I would imagine that there is something homologous to the perineal muscles in man and tetrapods, which affect the entire pelvic area – the clitoris, vagina and anus.
    The pelvic rudiments also serve as origins for the ischiocaudalis muscle, which is a ventral muscle that inserts on the tips of the chevron bones of the spinal column and acts to flex the tail in normal locomotion.
    James G. Mead, Ph.D. – Curator of Marine Mammals – National Museum of Natural History – Smithsonian Institution

  6. 6
    Dionisio says:

    Our research really changes the way we think about the evolution of…

    Could it be that the research was wrong?
    After all, if it contradicts the established theory, can it be right?
    Is it possible those guys don’t understand how macro-e works?
    Can someone out there explain it to them?
    Here’s a list of scientists who could explain it well:

  7. 7
    Dionisio says:

    #6 follow-up

    Maybe the “third way” folks coup explain it better? 😉

  8. 8
    Eric Anderson says:

    Yet another in the long, long line of alleged “vestigial” organs that have bitten the dust. It is getting more and more difficult to keep a straight face when arguing for this or that vestigial structure.

    Over and over when people actually look closely at a structure to see what is going on, the facile “it is a nonfunctional evolutionary leftover” falls by the wayside. Time to repeat my maxim:

    The perception of evolutionary theory’s explanatory power is inversely proportional to the specificity of the discussion.

  9. 9
    Acartia_bogart says:

    So, instead of being vestigial, we find that they have been coopted for another purpose. How does that cause a problem with evolution?

    It’s been a long time since I chased down porpoises in a Zodiac, but if I remember my marine mammal evolution, there were ancestors that used their vestigial legs as claspers during sex.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    “How does that cause a problem with evolution?”

    or you could just as have well asked,

    “How can anything cause a problem for tea leaf reading?”

    There simply is no bad news when you are a Darwinist,,,

    “Being an evolutionist means there is no bad news. If new species appear abruptly in the fossil record, that just means evolution operates in spurts. If species then persist for eons with little modification, that just means evolution takes long breaks. If clever mechanisms are discovered in biology, that just means evolution is smarter than we imagined. If strikingly similar designs are found in distant species, that just means evolution repeats itself. If significant differences are found in allied species, that just means evolution sometimes introduces new designs rapidly. If no likely mechanism can be found for the large-scale change evolution requires, that just means evolution is mysterious. If adaptation responds to environmental signals, that just means evolution has more foresight than was thought. If major predictions of evolution are found to be false, that just means evolution is more complex than we thought.”
    ~ Cornelius Hunter


    Soggy Bottom Boys- I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow

  11. 11
    Dionisio says:

    Eric Anderson

    The perception of evolutionary theory’s explanatory power is inversely proportional to the specificity of the discussion.

    Yes, and if the discussion gets too specific, they leave you alone in the discussion. 🙂

  12. 12
    Acartia_bogart says:

    AB: “How does that cause a problem with evolution?”

    BA77: or you could just as have well asked, “How can anything cause a problem for tea leaf reading?”

    BA: or you could just as have well asked, “God can do anything so how is this a problem for creationism”

    Yes, I can now see the strength of your impeccable logic.

  13. 13
    DavidD says:

    “So, instead of being vestigial, we find that they have been coopted for another purpose. How does that cause a problem with evolution?”

    You just stated the problem within your own attempt at snarkyness. “Purpose” is a blasphemous curse word in religious doctrine of evolution. To even utter such a word or term itself is to be considered heretical.

  14. 14
    DavidD says:

    Eric Anderson
    “Yet another in the long, long line of alleged “vestigial” organs that have bitten the dust. It is getting more and more difficult to keep a straight face when arguing for this or that vestigial structure.”

    “Vestigial” now is an acceptable holy word. ‘Vestigial’ like the other evolutionary sacred holy term, “Junk DNA”, is an evolutionary adaptation for winning arguments by not having to admit you don’t actually know something important within a debate. Much the way they employ other euphemisms and metaphors which are their version of filling the gaps where viable real world [those in this universe] explanations are lacking. Question their use of such purposely ambiguous terms or at least ask for a definition of these suspected evo-gappers and the next evo-adaptation strategy that follows is a visit from the other gang members with a barrage if derogatory insults and personal attacks. It may not win the arguments, but they feel better even if it is only in their own minds.


  15. 15
    Joe says:


    So, instead of being vestigial, we find that they have been coopted for another purpose. How does that cause a problem with evolution?

    Unguided evolution doesn’t have a mechanism capable of getting past prokaryotes. So all animals would be a problem for it.

  16. 16
    CuriousCat says:

    To Acartia_bogart,

    There is an asymmetry, which you do not like to admit, in the testability of the two views: Darwinian vs Theistic (including but not limited to Creationsim, ID, etc.) paradigms. Let me try to explain.

    The existence (or maybe it’s better to say “abundance”) of vestigial organs is hardly compatible with the Allmighty God “who designed and constructed the Universe” view of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. So, though I do not think any Christian, Jew or Muslim would abondon believing in God when he/she is confronted with the existence of vestigial organs, he/she would try to find alternative explanations, or avoid thinking about those examples, or simply consider them as “missing links” in his/her belief. On the other hand, the abundance of these organs is used as a “proof” (or at least “evidence”) for Darwinian views.

    Now here’s the trick. When a “function” is found for these vestigial organs, this is exactly the expectation of the metaphysical theory of theism. And this is the formal expecation of the theistic paradigm, not just something some theist would like to believe. If I may say, it’s the textbook expecation of theism. On the other hand, a Darwinist may come up and say “so what is the deal with that, so it’s functional, hence selected, so nothing against Darwinian view!”.

    So the asymmetry, if I couldn’t be clear enough, is at this point. From a human psychological point of view, you are right, there is no difference. Either way, we continue believing in what we believe via the mechanisms I’ve tried to list above. However, technically, the two metaphysical views have different testing “qualities”. Expectation of the theistic view (not a theist, but the view itself) is the lack (or small number, I can explain that if you’d like) vestigial organs. Expectation of the Darwinist view (not the Darwinist person), on the other hand, is simply NOTHING! Since the organ space is divided into two: vestigial or functional; if it’s vestigial, it’s Darwinian process, and if it’s functional, it’sa gain Darwinian process. Theory does not only make any prediction, but worse than that it does not favor any expectation (which may be more formally stated that it has no statistical preference to any outcome).

    Now, IMO, if Darwinian paradigm really deserves a scientific status, it should do the following: Given a total random process, a prediction should be made about the number/percentage/quantity of the vestigal organs in the organism, so that we can test with observations. If this quantity is satisfied, I am ready to admit that Darwinian Evolution is scientific. Otherwise, this “anything goes” approach is not much meaningful to me.

    Overall, I’d like to point out, there’s a difference between the metaphsyical theories themselves, and the people who uphold them. That we want to believe in these theories and how we do that should be separated from the testability of these theories.

  17. 17
  18. 18
    sixthbook says:

    Wow. Creationists have been saying this for years. Nice to be finally vindicated.

  19. 19
    Eric Anderson says:

    CuriousCat @16:

    Perhaps the real asymmetry is the following:

    ID proponents are perfectly comfortable with the (obvious and rather pedestrian) observation that some things in the world are designed and some things are not designed. ID proponents also recognize that designed objects can be pre-programmed to manifest certain characteristics at a later time or in response to particular environmental conditions. ID proponents also recognize that designed things get old, fall into disuse, break down, etc. ID proponents also recognize that a trial-and-error evolutionary process can do some things of minor consequence (finch beaks, bacterial resistance, and so on).

    The committed materialist, in contrast, cannot admit to a single act of design in the cosmos or life on Earth. His is a dogmatic, all-or-nothing, take-no-prisoners worldview that rejects even a single instance of intelligent involvement.

    The upshot of this is that an ID proponent can look at the empirical observations in nature and draw a reasonable inference about whether the particular item in question may have been designed for its present function, may have been pre-programmed to manifest the function, may have degraded from a prior function, or may (in some minor instances) have indeed come about through a Darwinian process. In contrast, the materialist must reject any possibility of design, no matter how compelling, no matter how absurd or illogical that rejection.

    The ID proponent has a larger explanatory toolkit from which to work. The materialist has an anemic and insufficient explanatory toolkit that is missing some of the key tools.

    This asymmetry is frustrating for the materialist, but it isn’t the ID proponent’s fault. It is the materialist’s fault for buying into an explanatory toolkit that is missing key tools. The materialist is working from a broken and incomplete paradigm. No amount of explanation, discussion, logic or evidence can convince the committed materialist that something is designed, so long as he clings to his incomplete paradigm which does not permit that possibility. It is only when the materialist is intellectually honest enough — or, more often, forced by the events of life — to reconsider his paradigm and worldview that the first ray of light breaks through and a recognition dawns that he has been groping in the dark this whole time and that there is a different, more complete, “more excellent” paradigm available.

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