Monday (Paleo)Organism – Ambulocetus natans : The Walking Whale That Swims


Ambulocetus natans, a long-extinct species of cetacean from the Eocene (about 59-60 mya) and creationist nightmare extraordinaire, is one of the most fascinating fossil species known. Ambulocetus natans literally means “The walking whale that swims”, so as to provide an uppercut reply to any creationist who ignorantly inquires: “What I don’t see in the fossil record is walking whales that swim!”.

Ambulocetus would probably appear a bit like a monstrous crocodile, and this is also an indication for his amphibious characteristics. He’s got your garden variety walking legs, alright, but they appear to be more suited for swimming, just as they are with crocodiles.

Ambulocetus’ nose appears to have a similar adaptation as whales do, and by that I mean that it could, just as whales can, swallow underwater. Its hearing is well-suited for being underwater and it also has similar dentition. Ambulocetus,  then, appears to be a whale in many respects, barring the fact that its got ambulatory legs. It also had eyes and nose at the top of its skull, to allow it to see above water when slightly submerged. This shows both terrestrial and aquatic adaptations, all in what appears to be an organism with cetacean characteristics.

It’s important to note that ambulocetus is not a whale as such, since it shows transitional characteristics common to both artiodactyls (hoofed animals) and cetaceans as well. It serves more as a marker for one of the stages in which land-walking artiodactyls eventually evolved into sea-faring cetaceans, and it does so exquisitely because it is effectively both.


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9 Responses to “Monday (Paleo)Organism – Ambulocetus natans : The Walking Whale That Swims”

  1. lala-lend Says:

    you hav’nt posted anything in hebrew yet
    still waiting

  2. Freidenker Says:


  3. Freidenker Says:


  4. Freidenker Says:


  5. Michael Hawkins Says:

    I’ve always found myself wondering about transitional fossils for whales such as this, but it’s never been something that has nagged me enough to spur me toward research. Thanks for posting this.

  6. Freidenker Says:

    Research? I wish! This is standard popular science knowledge! There’s so many transitional fossils out there, I’m embarrassed to know only two examples for cetacean transitional fossils.

    Fascinating subject, indeed. I’ve finally gathered the courage to buy a pop-sci book about paleontology. Considering it’s from Amazon and it takes ages for them to ship to Israel, I’m due reading it sometimes in the near century or so.

  7. Michael Hawkins Says:

    I guess what I meant was “basic Google search”.

  8. Nessa Says:

    haha research=basic google search.

    I didn’t know about this walking whale, my mind just flew out of the window.

    Ah I gotta love popular science. I think you’re doing a good job Freidenker. 🙂

    Have you seen Friends? I’m the only one among my friends who wishes Ross was never hushed when he starts talking about fossils.

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