UCL News


UCL in the News: When whales walked the Earth

19 December 2007

Roger Highfield, 'Daily Telegraph'  Whales, dolphins and porpoises owe their existence to a timid deer-like creature that fled to the water in times of danger, according to scientists who believe they have found the long sought "missing link" in their development.

Today, in the journal Nature, Prof Hans Thewissen at Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy suggests that the missing link is a creature called Indohyus. …

"Well, call me Ishmael! This is one of the rare cases in which anatomy, DNA, and fossils come together to make a seamless case for evolution," comments Prof Steve Jones [UCL Biology].

"Largely through Professor Thewissen's own work, the early ancestors of whales - some of which swam in a sea whose floor now graces the summits of the Himalayas - are classics of using dead bones to understand the life of today.

"There has, though, been an embarrassing gap at the beginning of the whale story; and today's news helps to fill it. How can anyone deny the truth of Darwin's theory when faced with evidence like this? Creationists, though, will no doubt point out that the new fossil means that there are now two gaps in the record, when there was only one before."

Prof Jones's 1999 book Almost Like a Whale is an attempt to update Darwin's milestone work, The Origin of Species. Prof Jones says, in the wake of today's work, "the next edition will be even more convincing than the last."