Originally created 10/24/98

Defends work of scientists on Plant Vogtle fossil whale 102498 - The Augusta Chronicle



In an Oct. 17 letter, G. Slater contends Georgia Southern University scientists have purposefully misrepresented the anatomy of the fossil whale collected at Plant Vogtle and now called Georgiacetus vogtlensts.

First, our work has been carefully judged by outside experts in what is known as the peer-review process, published in a major, international scientific journal and presented to numerous scientific audiences. Our interpretations have never been questioned by professional scientists.

Second, Mr. Slater is incorrect in his allegation that there "...are no fossil remains of any type of whale found anywhere in the world that demonstrates this theory (that at one time whales had feet)." In the past decade, paleontologists have discovered several different fossil whales that preserve the bones forming the limbs and feet. These include reports of hind limbs (including foot and toe bones) in fossil whales that are both older than Georgiacetus (Ambulocetus from Pakistan) and younger than Georgiacetus (Basilosaurus from Egypt). Both of these studies were published in the prestigious journal Science, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Third, Mr. Slater contends thatGeorgiacetus would have lacked a femur (the upper bone of the leg). If that was indeed the case, why does the pelvis of Georgiacetus have a perfectly formed socket joint for a femur, and why does it bear the marks caused by the attachment of various leg muscles? Because whales that are older and more primitive than Georgiacetus are known to have hind legs, as well as whales that are younger and more advanced; then the absence of a femur in Georgiacetus would be surprising even if we did not have the evidence from the pelvis.

Fourth, Mr. Slater cites the book Whales by E. J. Slijper, which is still an important reference book on modern whales, even though it was first published many decades ago. Mr. Slijper noted that some living whales have a vestigial pelvis, and on rare occasions other hind limb bones. The presence of vestigial organs, such as the human appendix and the pelvic bones found in some whales and snakes, is taken by most scientists as strong evidence in support of biologic evolution and is found in almost every basic biology textbook.

Finally, Mr. Slater argues against an evolution transition from a land-dwelling animal to an aquatic form, and states that if this occurs then there should be many fossils of them, which "...is not the case." Even within the modern world, we observe a broad range of adaptations to living in water by a variety of "land animals" from beavers, otters, turtles and alligators to more highly adapted types such as penguins, seals, manatees and whales. The fossil record has produced dozens of additional samples, including the famous marine reptiles of the Mesozoic (Dinosaur) Era, the ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and mosasaurs. ...

Richard C. Hulbert, Jr., Statesboro

(Editor's note: The writer is associate professor of Geology at GSU. The whale exhibit at the GSU museum ends tomorrow.)