Researchers from the USA and Chile reported, in November 2011, a remarkable bone bed on the west coast of northern Chile near the port city of Caldera, about 700 kilometres (440 miles) north of the capital, Santiago.1 Excavations uncovered the remains of some 80 baleen whales of which more than 20 specimens were complete (figure 1).2 They also found other kinds of marine mammals including an extinct dolphin with tusks and a sperm whale.3
The previous year, construction workers upgrading the Pan-American Highway discovered the fossil site in a road cut just north of Caldera. Since then, teams of scientists led by palaeontologist Nick Pyenson4 from the Smithsonian Institute and Mario Suarez from the nearby Museo Paleontologico de Caldera5 have been working to excavate the fossils while the road works were temporarily suspended.
The fossils alongside the highway are confined to a sandstone ridge about 20 metres (70 feet) wide and 240 metres (800 feet) long (figure 2). Most whales were about 8 metres (25 feet) long, and perfectly preserved. Some whales were so close together that they overlapped one another (figure 3). The site in a corner of the Atacama Desert is now well above sea level and over a kilometre from the shore. Suarez said it was well known that whale bones jutted out of the ridge, which was given the name Cerro Ballena, or Whale Hill.6
Paleontologists were thrilled to find the treasure trove, describing it as “very unusual”. Pyenson thinks the whales all died “more or less at the same time” after they were trapped in a lagoon. Others suggest they became disoriented and beached themselves. Paleontologist Erich Fitzgerald from Museum Victoria in Australia said it’s possible the remains accumulated over thousands of years. Whale expert Hans Thewissen from Northeast Ohio Medical University thought the whales might have gathered in a lagoon and been stranded by an earthquake or storm. After the connection to the ocean closed, the lagoon dried up and the whales died.
The puzzle of how these marine creatures died has caught news headlines with one reporting “Fossil Bonanza Poses Mystery”. Another asked, “How did 75 whales end up in the desert?”
Interestingly, some of those posting comments on these news reports suggested the creatures perished in Noah’s Flood. Robert Raeburn of Western Australia said, “The whales probably swam there when the whole world was covered in water, about 4000 years ago at the time of Noah. They would then have been stranded when the waters assuaged (drained back) to expose the dry land. … This all makes sense when viewed from a ‘Bible’ perspective.” An email friend suggested the same to Mario Suarez, one of the lead paleontologists. Not surprisingly, this idea generated a deal of web comments.
The field evidence for large-scale catastrophe is overwhelming as these research scientists have reported. What stops people making the obvious connection between these fossils and Noah’s Flood? It’s the million-year ages assigned to the fossils. On one comments thread Holly from the USA responded to the Noah’s Flood idea with, “Nothing from the Bible perspective makes sense, since 4,000 years ago that area wasn’t covered with water. However it was about 2 million years ago.”
But the 2-million-year-figure is the number paleontologists gave for the age of the fossils. Actually, they said the whales probably died between 2 million and 7 million years ago—that is early Pliocene to early Miocene (according to the International Stratigraphic Chart7). But where did they get those ages from?
First, they assign the ‘series’ and ‘stage’ by the field relationships among the strata and according to the fossils found therein.8 At this site they said that the fossil dating is complicated and probably not sufficiently precise to determine if the whales all died at the same time. Second, once the series and stage has been decided they simply read the ‘age’ in millions of years off the chart.
But how were the numbers determined for the chart? By agreement of an international committee which bases its thinking on the geological philosophy of uniformitarianism—a philosophy that only allows slow and gradual processes as explanations, or local catastrophes at the very largest.9 In other words, uniformitarian geologists are quite comfortable to hypothesise a storm, earthquake or tsunami, but not the global Flood.
On the other hand, drawing on multiple lines of evidence, biblical geologists consider the Flood a real event in history and the fossil layers to have been deposited mostly during this event. The Flood washes away the millions of years because it falsifies the assumptions on which the million-year ages are based. Most biblical geologists would accept that the standard geological column represents the general order of deposition during the Flood, with some of the uppermost parts of the column being deposited in the 4,300-year period afterwards.10
The sandstone strata containing the whale fossils are contained within a local area called the Caldera basin (figure 4).11
Similar localised basins are found at a number of places along the western coast of Chile. Although the basins are relatively small for Flood deposits, the characteristics of the sediments in these basins (figures 2 and 5) and the abundant fossils contained in them indicate that deposition took place during a period of rapid and major coastal subsidence.12 Coastal subsidence of this nature is exactly what we would expect in the second part of the Flood when the ocean basins sank, the continents rose and the floodwaters flowed into the ocean. And major coastal subsidence explains the rapid burial of the whales and other creatures because rapid burial was needed soon after death to preserve the fossils. After the ocean basins had mostly subsided and the waters had almost completely drained from the land, the whales and other animals that perished in the catastrophe were buried—toward the end of Noah’s Flood. As Robert Raeburn commented on one of the web news reports, the mystery disappears when we interpret the rocks and the fossils from a Bible perspective.
References and notes
Bhattacharya, A., Chilean desert yields trove of whale fossils, , blogs.nature.com, 18 November 2011. Return to text.
Gramling, C., Researchers Rush to Recover Whale Fossils From Highway Project, news.sciencemag.org, 18 November 2011. Return to text.
How did 75 whales end up in the desert? Rows of prehistoric bones unearthed in one of the most significant discoveries of its kind, dailymail.co.uk, 21 November 2011. Return to text.
Pyenson Lab, Oct 2011 and Nov 2011 posts, nmnh.typepad.com. Return to text.
Museo Paleontologico de Caldera, cepchile-paleontologia.es.tl. Return to text.
Vergara, E. and James, I., Whales In The Desert: Fossil Bonanza Poses Mystery, huffingtonpost.com, 19 November 2011. Return to text.
See for example: Walsh, S.A. and Suarez, M.E., New penguin remains from the Pliocene of Northern Chile, Historical Biology 18(2):115–126, 2006; p. 117 for a description of how ages are assigned to sedimentary strata. Return to text.
Murphy, M.A. and Salvador, A. (Eds.), International Stratigraphic Guide—An abridged version, International Subcommission on Stratigraphic Classification of IUGS, International Commission on Stratigraphy, Chapter 2. Principles of Stratigraphic Classification, stratigraphy.org. Return to text.
Feldmann, R.M., Schweitzer, C.E., Encinas, A., Neogene decapods crustacean from Southern Chile, Annals of Carnegie Museum 78(4):337–366, 2010. Return to text.
Encinas, A., Finger, K.L., Nielsen, S.N., Lavenu, A., Buatois, L.A., Peterson, D.E. and Le Roux, J.P., Rapid and major coastal subsidence during the late Miocene in south-central Chile, Journal of South American Earth Sciences 25:157–175, 2008. Return to text.
What are the fossilized remains of more than 80 whales doing in the driest desert on Earth?, io9.com. Return to text.
From Pyenson Lab, Dispatch 7: Walking outcrop, measuring section, nmnh.typepad.com, 6 October 2010. Return to text.
Bhattacharya, A., Chilean desert yields trove of whale fossils, , blogs.nature.com, 18 November 2011.
Gramling, C., Researchers Rush to Recover Whale Fossils From Highway Project, news.sciencemag.org, 18 November 2011.
How did 75 whales end up in the desert? Rows of prehistoric bones unearthed in one of the most significant discoveries of its kind, dailymail.co.uk, 21 November 2011.
Pyenson Lab, Oct 2011 and Nov 2011 posts, nmnh.typepad.com.
Museo Paleontologico de Caldera, cepchile-paleontologia.es.tl.
Vergara, E. and James, I., Whales In The Desert: Fossil Bonanza Poses Mystery, huffingtonpost.com, 19 November 2011.
International Stratigraphic Chart, stratigraphy.org.
See for example: Walsh, S.A. and Suarez, M.E., New penguin remains from the Pliocene of Northern Chile, Historical Biology 18(2):115–126, 2006; p. 117 for a description of how ages are assigned to sedimentary strata.
Murphy, M.A. and Salvador, A. (Eds.), International Stratigraphic Guide—An abridged version, International Subcommission on Stratigraphic Classification of IUGS, International Commission on Stratigraphy, Chapter 2. Principles of Stratigraphic Classification, stratigraphy.org.
Feldmann, R.M., Schweitzer, C.E., Encinas, A., Neogene decapods crustacean from Southern Chile, Annals of Carnegie Museum 78(4):337–366, 2010.
Encinas, A., Finger, K.L., Nielsen, S.N., Lavenu, A., Buatois, L.A., Peterson, D.E. and Le Roux, J.P., Rapid and major coastal subsidence during the late Miocene in south-central Chile, Journal of South American Earth Sciences 25:157–175, 2008.
What are the fossilized remains of more than 80 whales doing in the driest desert on Earth?, io9.com.
Oard, M.J., Hergenrather, J. and Klevberg, P.,
From Pyenson Lab, Dispatch 7: Walking outcrop, measuring section, nmnh.typepad.com, 6 October 2010.
If I’m not mistaken, this isn’t the only time marine fossils have been found in the middle of a land mass. Haven’t they also been found on top of mountains as well?
Tas Walker responds
Yes, that is true. 300 dead whales have been found in Peru. Marine fossils have been found at the top of Mt Everest.
Rae P., New Zealand, 14 December 2011
It defies logical reasoning when atheists try to say there is no God. How did the heavens-the galaxies, planets, and stars get there all by themselves, by chance? How could they possibly get there without a Creator God? Anyone with half a brain should realise that. Do not the heavens and all their expanse point to a Creator God? Evolution and atheism are just used as an excuse to escape accountability for sin. If an atheist acknowledges there is a God, then he has to also acknowledge his own prideful sinful state, give up his life of sin, and confess his need of a Saviour. When it is in the natural rebellious nature of man without God to want to go on sinning and live in sin, then it is easier to deny a loving God and His existence, than own accountability for sin and truly repent. This is what REALLY lies behind atheism and evolution.
Danie P., South Africa, 20 December 2011
From when I was little I had this huge curiosity of how everything works. (I became an engineer in the end.) I however found the Biblical explanation very strange and the secular worldview as the one making the most sense. But for years it bugged me continuously as I wasn’t able to tie my Christian upbringing together with my analytical and curious mind … bottomline I ended up not really believing the Bible’s account of origins, even though I didn’t even admit it to myself! Not to mention how a loving almighty God could allow so much misery in this world, life didn’t make sense.
Luckily there are people like CMI who’s got the analytical brains and the doctrine! These days I find it so easy to explain and understand everyday life. Life and mysteries like these whales are so much easier to understand through a Biblical worldview. THANK YOU CMI!
Rob H., South Africa, 20 December 2011
When are these evolutionists going to get it? No animal when it dies and is exposed to the elements is going to be fossilised.
Wolf C., South Africa, 20 December 2011
This article reminds me of something similar in Western Madagascar where one finds the Tsingy de Bemaraha-a unique massive geological phenomena consisting of razor sharp rock. I often travel to Madagascar for missionary work and still burning to visit this place. A bit difficult to get there but a Christian science teacher who have been there told me that this is an ancient coral reef which is tenths of kilometers long and about 60-80 km from the coast. How come a whole coral reef so far from the sea?
To see pictures type Tsingy on Google and click Images.
Also see whc.unesco.org/en/list/494/ and eoearth.org/article/Tsingy_de_Bemaraha_Strict_Nature_Reserve,_Madagascar
Melvin R., United States, 21 December 2011
Great geological find and article solidifying Biblical accounts (proof) of Noah’s Flood. Worldwide this is common and not surprising. The spin-jocks via atheist-evolutionists will immediately have a bowel-movement of the mouth and somehow attach this to MBYB (MillionBillionYearsBufoonery, I guarantee you.
Peter D., Canada, 22 December 2011
Very exciting! I myself found a number of clam shells about 4-5 feet below ground level when digging a trench for an electrical cable, about 100’ above the current water level of Shuswap, Lake in British Columbia, Canada.
A. O., United States, 23 February 2012
This is pretty legit that they are finding these things that support the flood theory. It would make no sense in the realm of millions of years. I mean, how the heck would these whales fossilize if it were not for rapid burial?