The desert whales of northern Chile highlight another, more-enduring mystery: seashells on mountaintops. How did they get there? Whoever can answer that riddle can explain much more.
Desert whales not the first high fossils
The desert whales of the Atacama Desert near Caldera, Chile, were not the first marine fossils on dry land. Paleontologists have known about marine life on mountain peaks for centuries. In 1569, Jan Van Gorp said this:
Nothing is so high, nothing is so far from the sea that we cannot find [shells] of those creatures that only live in sea water.
Alan Cutler (The Seashell on the Mountaintop, 2003) quotes Van Gorp in his book. (Walter T. Brown, in In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood, lists this and other book references here.) He thus shows that long before anyone ever heard of uniformitarianism in geology, paleontologists had found marine fossils not only high above sea level, but very far inland. So in fact, the debate about seashells on mountaintops is not part of the creation-v.-evolution debate. Scientists have wondered how the seashells got on the mountaintops since modern science began.
Early attempts to explain
Modern Western science began with Leonardo da Vinci. He was the first and prize example of the “Renaissance Man,” a master of science and art, and of many sciences, not one only.
From 1508 to 1515, Da Vinci wrote extensively about the seashells that he found in the mountains of Italy. (Da Vinci, Notebooks, Vol. 2, ed. Jean Paul Richter; New York: Dover Publications, 1970; pp. 208–218.) He challenged the notion that these shellfish could have crawled to such great heights (either the Alps, or the Appennines, or both) even from a flood that had partially covered them. How, he asked, could slow-moving clams crawl to such a height, even in hundreds of years? Sadly, the mystery defeated Leonardo; he had no better idea of how those shellfish landed so high than did anyone else.
Others suggested something closer to the truth: that originally, flood waters did cover the mountains, until the floors of the present oceans sank to their present depths, while the mountains rose. But no one managed to explain either event.
According to Brown:
Because elevations on earth change slowly, some wondered if sea bottoms could rise miles into the air, perhaps over millions of years. However, mountaintops, which experience destructive freezing and thawing cycles, erode relatively rapidly—and so should fossils slowly lifted by them. Furthermore, mountaintops accumulate few sediments that might blanket and protect such fossils. Some early authorities, in frustration, said the animals grew inside rocks—or the rocks simply look like clams, corals, fish, and ammonites. Some denied the evidence even existed.
The striking mystery of the desert whales
The desert whales of Chile are the most striking example yet of marine fossils on dry land. (See reports of the desert whales from the Associated Press, Nature.com, and two other sources.) Once again: some 80 adult and young whales, mostly baleen whales but also a sperm whale, two kinds of extinct dolphin (one with tusks!), sharks, and a possible seal) lie buried in a strip of land, 800 feet long by 60 feet wide. (Coordinates: 27°03’13.72″S, 70°48’09.13″W; elevation about 150 feet.)
The Santiago Times yesterday revealed that the scientists are still asking themselves: How did they get there? The Smithsonian’s Nicholas Pyenson made the most honest statement to date:
I think they died more or less at the same time.
The reason: these skeletons lie mere yards apart on a narrow hill.
Brown gives more details:
What concentrated so many different and large sea creatures, and how were they fossilized at the base of the Andes Mountains? A few species (sperm whales, killer whales, and dolphins) sometimes become disoriented and beach themselves, but not baleen whales, and not the other powerful swimmers found in this mass graveyard. (SONAR causes whales to beach themselves, but of course, SONAR did not exist when these whales died.)
More than that: if SONAR did exist when the desert whales died, that would destroy the evolutionary paradigm at a single stroke. According to it, mankind itself did not exist then.
Brown goes on:
Environmental factors might kill a variety of large sea creatures, but that would not lift them up at least 50 feet above sea level, concentrate them in an area the size of two football fields, and quickly bury them in enough sediments to provide excellent fossilization. Instead, the animals would decompose or be scavenged. If this happened over millions of years, why do some fossils overlap? Even if a whale became trapped in a lagoon, why would a shark—a sleek and powerful swimmer? Besides, what would crowd so many different and large sea creatures into a lagoon?
As Brown explains, what trapped the desert whales is part of the larger event we call the Global Flood. The Andes Mountains are part of a long chain that lines the western shores of North and South America. The Flood began with the breakout of a sub-crustal ocean that formed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The sudden escape of the sub-crustal water caused the Ridge to build up. The Americas slid down the slopes of the Ridge until they crashed to the original sub-crustal floor. That crash compressed the land and caused the Andes (and the Rocky) Mountains to rise. When they did, they trapped some shellfish on their peaks, too. They also trapped large amounts of water on their western slopes. As this water drained away, what became the desert whales (and the other creatures that accompanied them) fell into narrow valleys. Finally, large amounts of sediment buried them, largely intact. (Twenty of the desert whale skeletons are intact.)
Why were the desert whales in the region?
This raises another question: why did some 80 whales and other creatures swim to that region to begin with? Why didn’t they stay out in the Pacific Ocean? The answer: they were escaping something else that frightened them.
Brown explains what that was:
[H]ours before the Andes Mountains rose, the earth’s crust on the Pacific side of the earth was pulled down and crumbled. The ring of fire surrounds the sunken Pacific crust; indeed, that is why the ring of fire is the most volcanically active and earthquake-prone region on earth. These large sea creatures lie on the thin coastline between the ring of fire and the Andes Mountains. Probably, all these animals were fleeing to the east, away from the deafening sounds and shock waves coming from the west. The seafloor beneath them then rose as the compression event began.
What pulled the Pacific Ocean floor down, to create the Ring of Fire? The same thing that created the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. When the sub-crustal water broke out, it created a vacuum directly beneath it on the Atlantic side. Nature abhors a vacuum, so the crust on the Pacific side caved in to fill the void. The volcanism would begin almost at once, as simple gravitational settling would produce a lot of heat. So the desert whales were swimming away from the first volcanoes. Tragically, they fled in exactly the wrong direction. From that tragedy comes further testimony to the greatest catastrophe that the earth has ever known.
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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.