“Of all whale species, by far the noisiest, chattiest, most exuberant, and most imaginative is the humpback. It is the noisemaker and the Caruso of the deep, now grating like an old hinge, now as melodious as an operatic tenor” (1). These were the words of the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in his epic volume Whales, originally written in French under the more descriptive title La Planete Des Baleines. The male humpback in particular had been a source of fascination for Cousteau’s exploration team precisely because of its exquisite song-making capabilities. Star Trek aficionados will no doubt remember the long-range distress calls of these ocean-faring giants in the movie blockbuster The Voyage Home.
Humpbacks can be heard for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers creating discernible noise sequences or ‘themes’ that can last as long as 20-30 hours (1,2). The available repertoire of vocalizations requires that “bursts of air” be channeled up from the lungs and through the trachea (3). The frequency range of these vocalizations is formidable- 8-4000 Hz (compared to 80-1300 Hz for a singing human; (4)). While certain sounds might serve to maintain contact between distant herds (2) others are clearly used to attract mates in the shallow breeding grounds of the tropics (5).
The sperm whale’s characteristic clicking has likewise been intensely studied and marine biologists have in the last decade described this creature’s ‘pneumatic sound generator’ in great detail (6). Usual clicks serve for echo location while so-called ‘coda’ clicks are used for maintaining the “complex social structure in female groups” (6). Remarkably the amount of air used to make each click is so small that even at depths of 2000 m, where the air volume is significantly reduced, sperm whales can phonate successfully (6). The mechanism of sound generation is exquisitely selective for the two modes of communication: “the marked differences between coda clicks and usual clicks are caused by differential sound propagation in the nasal complex” (6).
Other whale species are known to ‘talk to each other’: blue whales, fin whales, rights and bowheads all display the use of what has tentatively been called a rudimentary language (7). Equally captivating is the auditory apparatus that picks up these sounds (8). Unlike terrestrial mammals, whales sport freely-vibrating ossicles in the middle ear for more sensitive distance hearing:
“The bones of the middle ear, although fused to each other, are not directly connected to the rest of the skull; they are suspended from it by means of ligaments. All around them is a complex network of cavities and sinuses filled with a foamy mucus that further insulates the ear from the skull and provides yet another means by which whales filter out all but the essential sounds.”(9)
What are we to make of the evolutionary origins of these key designs? In the summer of 2009 a seminal publication in the journal Mammalian Biology provided fodder for one popular idea (10). Using the aquatic escape behavior of Bornean mouse deer as primary evidence for their claims, researchers from Indonesia and the Australian National University in Canberra proposed that whales might have descended from ancient members of the ruminant family tragulidae which today includes cattle, sheep, goats and deer (11). Local villagers have observed tragulids submerging themselves in rivers and streams for over five minutes at a time as a way of eschewing would-be predators (10).
The Australian-Indonesian publication came hot on the heels of a cladistic study that claimed to have found a whale ‘sister group’ called Indohyus – “a middle Eocene raoellid artiodactyl from Kashmir, India” (10, 12). The overarching conclusion of this earlier work was nothing short of profound:
“Our analysis identifies raoellids as the sister group to cetaceans and bridges the morphological divide that separated early cetaceans from artiodacyls.” (12)
We might therefore reasonably expect that the hearing and vocalization of modern cetaceans could be drawn into a gradual evolutionary sequence, perhaps going as far back as the land-sea transitioning mammals from which they are supposed to have been derived. But like so many evolutionary just-so stories, the devil is in the details. Indeed Darwinists admit that significant differences in the morphology of sensory organs make cetaceans unique (12).
In 2004 a group headed by professor of anatomy Hans Thewissen published what appeared to be the definitive answer on the evolution of whale hearing (13). Their ‘integrated interpretation of evolving sound transmission mechanisms’ came as a result of fossils that were collected from 35-50 million year-old deposits (13). The base specimen of their cladistic interpretation, a 50 million year old fossil of a terrestrial mammal called pakicetus, benefited from bone conduction of sound through a loosely suspended tympanic bone (13). Later aquatic mammals such as remingtoncetus and protocetus possessed large so-called mandibular fat pads that further improved bone-mediated sound transmission (13). For all three phyletic groups a terrestrial auditory structure called the external meatus allowed efficient capture of airborne sounds (13). Thewissen’s final chronological group, the basilosauroids, sported yet one further innovation- air-filled sinuses that acoustically isolated the ear from the rest of the skull (13).
The most striking omission in the above sequence, and perhaps the most important of all, is the explanation for how a fleeting mouse deer somehow adapted to the acoustic rigors of underwater living. A five minute escapade in the shallows of a river is a far cry from the mate searches that would have been so vital for an aquatic lifestyle. Pakicetus was in fact a fast-running, land-dwelling long-necked quadruped (more like a dog than a deer) that lacked any sort of sub-aquatic anatomy (14, 15). Indeed one alternative interpretation of the data is that the pakicetus middle ear structure was more consistent with what one might expect for a subterranean habitat in which the head is in direct contact with the ground (14).
While Remingtoncetus was undoubtedly a four-legged semi-aquatic mammal that had a long slender snout, small eyes and ears and an overall size perhaps no bigger than a sea otter (16, 17), the above descriptive of the origins of its auditory innovations fits more in line with what one might expect for, say, a saltationist view of life than any sort of gradual evolutionary process. The same can be said of the supposed transition from protocetus to basilosauroids. In fact the fossil evidence reveals that in remingtoncetus the foundations of the modern whale underwater auditory mechanism had already been realized (13). Ironically the most convincing set of ear transitional forms in the whale evolutionist’s armory- that of the decrease in size of the semicircular canal system of the inner ear (involved in balance) – only shows evolution bringing about small changes to already existing functional innovations (15).
Hippopotamids are of course hot favorites for the title of the closest living terrestrial relatives of whales (18, 19). Like whales, modern hippos are furnished with bone-mediated hearing and exhibit effective underwater communication (18). Still, morphology-based phylogenies to-date have yielded conflicting results and the identification of intermediates that supposedly spanned the divide between hippos and the common ancestor is controversial (20). Different analyses show anywhere between 3 and 40 million years of unrecorded evolution depending on which sister groups one chooses to grab along the way (20).
Over a decade ago one high school biology textbook asserted that there were no clear transitional fossils linking land mammals to whales (21). Such a position has been upheld by the most recent peer-reviewed literature. In fact hypotheses on the evolution of sound generation in whales and delphinids hinge upon the selective “drivers” that purportedly brought about change (eg: hunting, increased sociality, predator avoidance) while leaving out the mechanistic details of how such change took place (22, 23, 24). In contrast, the co-integrated nature of whale sound transmission, both in its vocalization and capture, has led some to the inference that intelligent rather than mindless design is at play. 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. Perfect acoustical and other constructions are required for their serenades and way of life in the vastness of the ocean; they could only exist from a detailed preliminary plan. Employing sounds to allure their mates has another interesting feature, considering the entirety of the animal kingdom. Although each species emits sound signals that resemble signals of other species, the animals never mistake the sounds for those of other species…Harmony between sounds and sound-receiving organs likewise presupposes the…requirement of simultaneous appearance, while excluding the possibility of gradual evolution.” (8)
In short, the latest evidence on whale communication cuts deep into the fishing nets of evolutionary dogma. Darwinist trawlers have every reason to be concerned.
1.Jacques Cousteau and Yves Paccalet (1986) Whales, W.H. Allen & Co, London, pp. 236-38.
2.Eduardo Mercado III (1998) Humpback Whale BioAcoustics: From Form To Function, PhD thesis, University of Hawaii, http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~emiii/diss.pdf p.16.
3. Ibid p.25.
4. Ibid p.37.
5. Planet Earth Series: Shallow Seas, Narrated by David Attenborough, BBC Video, 2008.
6. P. T. Madsen, R. Payne, N. U. Kristiansen, M. Wahlberg, I. Kerr and B. Mohl (2002) Sperm whale sound production studied with ultrasound time/depth-recording tags, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol 205, 1899-1906.
7. Jacques Cousteau and Yves Paccalet (1986) Whales, W.H. Allen & Co, London, p.234.
8. Balazs Hornyanszky and Istvan Tasi (2009) Nature’s IQ: Extraordinary Animal Behaviors That Defy Evolution, Torchlight Publishing, Badger, CA, pp.102-104.
9. Jacques Cousteau and Yves Paccalet (1986) Whales, W.H. Allen & Co, London, p.161.
10. Erik Meijaarda, Umilaela, GehandeSilva Wijeyeratne (2009), Aquatic escape behaviour in mouse-deer provides insight into tragulid evolution, Mammalian Biology, doi:10.1016/j.mambio.2009.05.007
11. Matt Walker (2009) Aquatic Deer And Ancient Whales, BBC Earth News, 7th July, 2009, See http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8137000/8137922.stm
12. J. G. M. Thewissen, Lisa Noelle Cooper, Mark T. Clementz, Sunil Bajpai & B. N. Tiwari (2007) Whales originated from aquatic artiodactyls in the Eocene epoch of India, Nature, Vol 450, pp.1190-1194.
13. Sirpa Nummela, J. G. M. Thewissen, Sunil Bajpai, S. Taseer Hussain, Kishor Kumar (2004) Eocene evolution of whale hearing, Nature, Vol 430, pp.776-778.
14. J. G. M. Thewissen, E. M. Williams, L. J. Roe & S. T. Hussain (2001) Skeletons of terrestrial cetaceans and the relationship of whales to artiodactyls, Nature, Vol 413, pp.277-281.
15. F. Spoor, S. Bajpai, S. T. Hussain, K. Kumar & J. G. M. Thewissen (2001) Vestibular evidence for the evolution of aquatic behaviour in early cetaceans, Nature, Vol 417, pp.163-166.
16. Remingtoncetidiae, See http://www.neoucom.edu/DEPTS/ANAT/Remi.html
17. Sunil Bajpai and J. G. M. Thewissen (2000) A new, diminutive Eocene whale from Kachchh (Gujarat, India) and its implications for locomotor evolution of cetaceans, Current Science, Vol 79, pp.1478-1482, See http://tejas.serc.iisc.ernet.in/currsci/nov252000/1478.pdf
18. The Animal Communication Project, See http://acp.eugraph.com/elephetc/hippo.html
19. Whale and hippo ‘close cousins’ BBC News, Monday, 24 January, 2005, See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4204021.stm
20. Jean-Renaud Boisserie, Fabrice Lihoreau, and Michel Brunet (2005) The position of Hippopotamidae within Cetartiodactyla, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci, Vol 102, pp.1537-1541.
21. Percival Davis, Dean H Kenyon, Charles Thaxton (1993) Of Pandas And People: The Central Question Of Biological Origins, Haughton Publishing Company, Richardson, Texas.
22. Laura J May-Collado, Ingi Agnarsson, Douglas Wartzok (2007) Phylogenetic review of tonal sound production in whales in relation to sociality, BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, Vol 7, p.136, See http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2148-7-136.pdf
23. Migrating Squid Drove Evolution Of Sonar In Whales And Dolphins, Researchers Argue
24. Morisaka T, Connor RC (2007) Predation by killer whales (Orcinus orca) and the evolution of whistle loss and narrow-band high frequency clicks in odontocetes, Journal Of Evolutionary Biology, Volume 20, pp.1439-58.