The Walking Whales: From Land to Water in Eight Million Years

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Univ of California Press, Nov 13, 2014 - Science - 248 pages
Hans Thewissen, a leading researcher in the field of whale paleontology and anatomy, gives a sweeping first-person account of the discoveries that brought to light the early fossil record of whales. As evidenced in the record, whales evolved from herbivorous forest-dwelling ancestors that resembled tiny deer to carnivorous monsters stalking lakes and rivers and to serpentlike denizens of the coast.

Thewissen reports on his discoveries in the wilds of India and Pakistan, weaving a narrative that reveals the day-to-day adventures of fossil collection, enriching it with local flavors from South Asian culture and society. The reader senses the excitement of the digs as well as the rigors faced by scientific researchers, for whom each new insight gives rise to even more questions, and for whom at times the logistics of just staying alive may trump all science.

In his search for an understanding of how modern whales live their lives, Thewissen also journeys to Japan and Alaska to study whales and wild dolphins. He finds answers to his questions about fossils by studying the anatomy of otters and porpoises and examining whale embryos under the microscope. In the book's final chapter, Thewissen argues for approaching whale evolution with the most powerful tools we have and for combining all the fields of science in pursuit of knowledge.


1 A Wasted Dig
2 Fish Mammal or Dinosaur?
3 A Whale with Legs
4 Learning to Swim
5 When the Mountains Grew
6 Passage to India
7 A Trip to the Beach
8 The Otter Whale
10 The Skeleton Puzzle
11 The River Whales
12 Whales Conquer the World
13 From Embryos to Evolution
14 Before Whales
15 The Way Forward

9 The Ocean Is a Desert

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About the author (2014)

J. G. M. "Hans" Thewissen is Ingalls-Brown Endowed Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Northeast Ohio Medical University. His main research interest is the study of whales, particularly their adaptations to life in water and their origin as land mammals. He discovered in 1994 the skeleton of the first-known whale that could walk on land (Ambulocetus), and he has led more than ten field expeditions each to Pakistan and India, collecting fossil whales. He is coeditor of Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2002), Emergence of Whales (1998), and Sensory Evolution on the Threshold (UC Press, 2008).

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