Consilience and whale evolution

Way, waaay back in December of 2005 (ye gods has been ten years already?!) I wrote a Feedback response on the Talk Origins Archive to a question about the vestigial pelvic bones found in modern whales. In this case the questioner did not believe them to be truly vestigial, no doubt due to holding erroneous beliefs regarding the subject. In my response I of course took the time to correct their faulty views, however I also used the opportunity to talk about the concept of consilience wherein multiple independent lines of evidence converge on a single explanation, giving us greatly increased confidence that those explanations (hypothesis/theories) are likely to be accurate reflections of reality, i.e. “true”. 

I have now and again thought of going back and using that post as a spring-board for a more detailed examination of this subject and who knows, I may still do so someday. In the meantime however, here is a great video from Stated Clearly that I ran across on Facebook recently that uses the same topic—whales—to essentially do the same thing I did all those years ago; make a point about the consilience of evidence pointing to a pretty definite conclusion with regards to not just the ancestry of cetaceans but the evolution of life in general. Better they include more details than I did and it has animations.

Check it out:

I miss answering the feedback question on Talk Origins…


Inside Natures Giants

I recently stumbled upon (on YouTube) a BAFTA award winning British TV series titled Inside Natures Giants and I’ve fallen in love. What we have here is a television show in which various large animals, all vertebrates so far, are dissected on camera (and often in front of a live audience of students)  by a team of biologists in order to show the details of their anatomy while presenting elements of their physiology, natural history and evolution (including commentary by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins).

So far the show has dissected an Asian elephant, a fin whale, a Nile crocodile, a Rothschild giraffe, a great white shark, a Burmese python, and most recently (unfortunately not yet available on YouTube) a two for one, lion and tiger combination.

I’m hoping they work in a ostrich or emu in there sometime soon and maybe a giant squid or octopus to show some invertebrate anatomy as well.

These programs deal with the dissection of actual animals in graphic detail so if you’re squeamish at all you might find them difficult to watch, however this show is an absolute must see for anyone interested in zoology and evolution.

Of particular interest was the dissection of the giraffe. Among the various interesting adaptations towards tree top browsing is a classic example of one of the cloven hoofprints of evolutionary history, the recurrent laryngeal nerve; the dissection of which has apparently not been done (according to one of the scientists in the show) in a giraffe since the 1830’s.

Here is the first episode of the first series on the Asian elephant:

A play list of all the videos available on YouTube can be found here, and I really cannot recommend them more highly.

Go watch them… NOW!

but there is a whole series of videos showing several different large animals being dissected while their anatomy, physiology, and how these evolved are discussed. A must see for those interested in zoology and evolution.