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Vestigial Structures


DNA Evidence - Insertions

 1. ERVs   2. Transposons

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Whale Evolution - Evidences


C. DNA evidence 


1. Multiple proteins have been sequenced to their DNA bases and compared between species. Examples include: beta-casein, cytochrome C, myoglobin, and hemoglobin. They all tell the same story: hippos are more closely related to whales than they are to land animals. In the case of the gene that produces milk, there are only 3 base differences between the hippo and the Porpoise and Sperm Whale.





















Beta-casein gene DNA sequence comaprison between a Cow and a Right Whale. There are 9 differences between their sequences (8 are shown; can you find the 9th?). This number is then put into the answer grid below (Ind. Univ. lab exercise). Note in the table below that hippos are related as closely to whales as whales are to themselves.



























2. Transposons (usually retrotransposons) are sections of DNA that have the ability to copy themselves and insert a copy somewhere else in the genome, called “jumping genes” for  good reason. They insert randomly and as stated are all over the genomes of many animals. If one finds a transposon shared between two species, inserted in the same location, the only reasonable conclusion is that the two species must have shared a common ancestry. Often they even share the same mutations. Since there are millions of them, even if there may be some 'hot spot' tendencies the shear number of transposons inserting in the genomes allows one to say with high probability that the two species being compared must have shared a common ancestry. In addition, after insertion, they mutate and become fossilized within the genome. When comparing transposons of several mammal species, Hippos are more closely related to whales than they are to deer and cows.














































Note that transposon data can be used to construct phylogenetic trees and they match what is known from the fossil record. Hippos are more closely related to whales then they are to cows or deers.



3. Atavisms. Occasionally, whales and dolphins are born with legs. In some species of whales it's actually common - 1:500. For example, in 1919 a female Humpback was caught off the coast of Vancouver Island with a pair of atavistic legs. Two feet length was sticking out of its body and 4 feet of them were embedded into the body and attaching to the vestigial pelvis. They had leg bones including a femur, tibia, foot metatarsals and parts of the ankle. The obvious question is, if whales did not evolve from land animals, why do they have all the complex DNA to make legs? If they were always in the sea, no Young Earth or Old Earth Designer would put complex DNA to make legs (muscles, bones, blood vessels, connective tissue, etc.) in an animal that would only swim. And atavisms are always consistent with evolution; whales can have atavistic legs, humans atavistic tails. Neither develops atavistic feathers. 































Both of these photos are from The leg bones on the left are from a humpback whale caught off the coast of British Columbia in 1919. They were covered with normal skin, blubber and articulated with a vestigial pelvis. Femur to metatarsal bones were noted (foot ray bones). The photo on the right is from a bottlenose dolphin caught in 2006 off the coast of Japan showing well formed hindlimbs which are normally not present in dolphins. They are atavisms, DNA throwbacks to a time when cetacean ancestors had legs and walked on land.


Addendum: In 2011 two researches announced that a Basilosaurid jaw bone had been found in Antartica and dated to 49 my. Since whales are thought to have evolved about 53 mya, this would seem to be a serious problem for fossil whale evidence. Indeed, anti-evolutionists have made claims that this one bone invalidates all the other evidences for whale evolution. Two of the world's most prominent cetacean palenolotists answered my request for clarification:


"The fossil appears to consist of just a jawbone [from the Internet articles]..., a jaw with no teeth visible. I am worried because I do not see any teeth, which means that I cannot confirm that this is indeed a basilosaurid, and that makes me wonder how the researchers know this is a basilosaurid, not an older whale. The problem is that I do not believe that a scientific report has been published, so we have to take their word for both the identification, but also their determination of the age of the rocks..." 

~ JGM "Hans" Thewissen, PhD. Ingalls-Brown Professor of Anatomy, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Northeastern Ohio Medical University

Personal email, September 27, 2015, 6:41 am


"There is little to say except that I am skeptical of the claimed age of the basilosaurid from Antartica. I have not been able to access the source publication so cannot give you details. Basilosaurids were cosmopolitan and are too well known globally for the claimed age to be true."

Philip D. Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences, Evol. Biology, and Anthropology.

Curator, Museum of Paleontology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Personal email, September 29, 2015, 2:29 pm


Whale Evolution: an overview (2016), Hans Thewissen. Short article with artist's renditions of major fossils  Link


New "missing link" for whales discovered. Dec., 2016  Link


D. Why does it matter?


1. There are only two basic types of creationism: Young Earth and Old Earth creationism. Although there are four types of OEC (Framework, Gap, Progressive, and Evolutionary Creationism or Theistic Evolution), only the last two are commonly supported in theistic attempted modeling of origins.


2. Of the five types of creationism only Theistic Evolution can accommodate macroevolution when looking at the current most popular creationism types. Thus, any evidence for macroevolution, such as whale evolution, greatly simplifies the evolution - creation debates. We don't need to get bogged down in discussions of all the other secondary topics in the debates that eventually arise when discussing scriptural origin claims (Adam & Eve, ages, Flood, Ark, etc.).



There are many other well established examples of macroevolution. Reptiles to mammals is well documented, and the recent prediction of Tiktaalik and then its discovery by Shubin showing the transition from fish to amphibian is a good example of not only evolution, but the predictive power of the theory. And of course, the newer DNA evidence linking humans to chimps (ERVs, human chromosome 2 fusion, pseudogenes, etc. - see other pages on this site) is powerful and decisive for all except the most staunch creationists who will not accept any evidence against their understanding of speciation. The talkorgins site has hundreds of transitional examples detailed for those who are interested listed in its 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution


So, since there are only two types of creationism, and macroevolution is certainly true, the only place for believers to land, if they are reasonable in terms of the evidence, is as a theistic evolutionist.


The discussion about whether theistic evolution is a good description of origins and a solution to the tension between religion/faith and science, both from a biological evaluation and scriptural concordance, is left for a future consideration. A beginning can be found on this web site at this page here.






1. The Origin of Whales:


2. Dolphin early hind buds and vestigial pelvis:


3. Why Evolution is True. 2009. Jerry Coyne


4. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. 2007. Donald Prothero


5. The Evolution of Whales (UC Berkely)

http// 03


6. Whale Evolution (NCSE):


7. Cetacean Evolution: (ETB)


8. Cetacean Evolution: A Whale of A Tale (Peters): LINK


9. Hind limb loss in dolphins: J. G. M. Thewissen, M. J. Cohn, L. S. Stevens, S. Bajpai, J. Heyning, and W. E. Horton, Jr., PNAS May 30, 2006 vol. 103 no. 22 8414-8418


10. Cetacean Evolution (ETB)


11. Whale ankles and DNA. 2007. ENSI. Indiana Univ.


12. Why Whales are Weird: (Reidenberg)


13. Evolution of Whales: Jerry Coyne. Why Evolution is True


14. The Evolution of the Ridiculous (Zimmer)


15. Early whales gave birth on land


16. Whale transitional evidence between toothed and baleen whales:


17. The Erotic Endurance of Whale Hips (Zimmer). Evolution of whale pelivis


18. Sexual selection targets cetacean pelvic bones (Zimmer's source)



Biomed, 4/2014



The following is a listing of the evidence presented during a lecture on whale evolution


FOSSILS (over 30 genera discovered)


Hind limbs shrink and disappear in the correct chronological sequence.

Nasal hole migrates from the nose to the blowhole, in sequence

Middle ear changes with the incus rotating in transition: Packicetus

Early fossils found in localized area around Pakistan; more modern fossils found widespread as they moved into marine environments

Fossils that moved out to marine areas also found with matching other flora and fauna fossils

Oxygen isotope ratios in fossil enamel matches fossil moving out from near freshwater to marine salt water

Terrestrial pelvis changes to the vestigial pelvis we see today

Limbs show the same order and types of bones you have in your limbs - femur/tib-fib/tarsals/phalanges

We know all the fossils are related to whales because of a special bony enlargement called the involucrum - fossils and all living whales. Indohyus was a small terrrestrial mammal.

Whale fossils were recently characterized (Aetiocetus spp.) with teeth and evidence of baleen forming - a wonderful transitional fossil showing that baleen whales evolved from toothed whale ancestors.




Vestigial pelvis. Professional anatomists can identify the same bones you have in your pelvis; in males they serve a reproductive function, unknown in females. The original function of walking has been lost which is why we know they are vestigial.

Vestigial olfactory nerves to the "nose"

Auditory meatus shrunk to just a streak (ear canal)

Vestigial diaphragm (they use their thoracic muscles to breathe)

Covered at one time with fetal hair

Four chambered stomach like land ruminants.

Vestigial small ear muscles that don't attach to ears anymore (Belugas an exception)

Embryo nostrils develop at the nose and then migrate up to the top blowhole (like in the fossil record, Dorudon). What looks like a single blowhole in some has two openings

Some Baleen whale embryos first develop tooth buds before they loose them, harking back to their ancestry (dentin only)


We know all the fossils are related to whales because of a special bony enlargement called the involucrum - fossils and all living whales have it. Indohyus was a small terrestrial mammal and had an involucrum.




DNA gene sequences for making proteins (beta-casein, cytochrome C, myoglobin, hemoglobins show that whales are as related to other cetaceans as they are the hippo

Transposon DNA comparisons between various species shows hippos are intermediate and more closely related to cetaceans compared to many terrestrial animals. 16 different transposons were studied. If you find the same transposon inserted in the same DNA areas the only rational explanation is common descent.

Land olfactory pseudogenes have been found in modern whales

Baleen whales have the DNA mutated genes to code for enamel, even though they have no teeth as adults and even those baleen embryos who make teeth buds before losing them, only have dentin.




Whales being born with hind limbs are actually not uncommon. They can have cartilaginous structures including femurs, tib-fib, metatarsals and sometimes near toes. Some are found sticking outside their bodies and also articulating with their vestigial pelvis, providing great evidence for their terrestrial ancestry.

DNA b-casein DNA B-C table Whale transposons Mammal transposons whale ativism Dolphin atavism