The Walking Whales

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

4.09 (87 ratings by Goodreads)

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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.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 19mm | 635g
  • Berkerley, United States
  • English
  • black & white illustrations, colour illustrations, figures
  • 0520277066
  • 9780520277069
  • 361,707

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"Thewissen convincingly conveys the paleobiology of early whales as a dynamic and exciting area of study. In this account of adventures and discoveries, he relives his experiences in the field and his career exploring whale evolution."
--Annalisa Berta, author of Return to the Sea: The Life and Evolutionary Times of Marine Mammals

"The Walking Whales is absolutely cutting-edge. The field of whale paleontology has undergone major changes in understanding over the past fifteen years. A broad readership will enjoy Thewissen's stories and how they fit into the narrative arc of scientific discovery about early whales."
--Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Table of contents

1. A Wasted Dig Fossils and War A Whale Ear 2. Fish, Mammal, or Dinosaur? The King Lizard of Cape Cod Basilosaurid Whales* Basilosaurids and Evolution 3. A Whale with Legs The Black and White Hills A Walking Whale 4. Learning to Swim Meeting the Killer Whale From Dog-Paddle to Torpedo Ambulocetid Whales* Ambulocetus and Evolution 5. When the Mountains Grew The High Himalayas Kidnapping in the Hills Indian Whales 6. Passage to India Stranded in Delhi Whales in the Desert A 150-Pound Skull 7. A Trip to the Beach The Outer Banks A Fossilized Coast 8. The Otter Whale The Whale with No Hands Remingtonocetid Whales* Building a Beast out of Bones 9. The Ocean Is a Desert Forensic Paleontology Drinking and Peeing Fossilized Drinking Behavior Walking with Ambulocetus 10. The Skeleton Puzzle If Looks Could Kill How Many Bones Make a Skeleton? Finding Whales' Sisters 11. The River Whales Hearing in Whales Pakicetid Whales* September 11, 2001 12. Whales Conquer the World A Molecular SINE The Black Whale Protocetid Whales* Protocetids and History 13. From Embryos to Evolution A Dolphin with Legs The Marine Park at Taiji Shedding Limbs Whaling in Taiji 14. Before Whales The Widow's Fossils The Ancestors of Whales Indohyus* A Trust for Fossils 15. The Way Forward The Big Question Tooth Development Baleen as Teeth Notes Index *These six headings summarize the biology of the six fossil groups that form the transition between whales and their terrestrial ancestors. Their relationships to each other and to the living families of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) are given in figure 66.
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Review quote

"There is an immediacy to Thewissen's writing and an urgency to the excavations, and readers curious about paleontological fieldwork will appreciate the enthusiasm and specificity with which he approaches his subject matter... The whale's evolution and Thewissen's contributions to its study are both extraordinary." Publishers Weekly "Does a splendid job of showing what it is like to be a palaeontologist. Thewissen's vivid descriptions of fieldwork in Pakistan and India will give readers a clear sense of the joys and frustrations, and the tedium and excitement, that the work entails... Thewissen's book is a perfect introduction to the field." NewScientist "The Indiana Jones of biology is an engaging guide in this marine detective story... The Walking Whales is part biological text, part detective story." Times Higher Education "Racily recounted adventures ... Meticulous comparative work." -- Richard Shelton Times Literary Supplement "Delightful reading ... Thewissen's book is a fine account." -- Rob Hardy The Dispatch "Mixes memoir, adventure, history, and popular science to tell one of the most fascinating stories to emerge from paleontology in the last quarter century... This is an excellent, accessible summary of a fascinating and fruitful career and a treasure trove of information regarding the first 20 million years of cetacean history that will be used for years to come." -- Michael R. McGowen Science Direct "The book alternates between entertaining exploits in the field that reminded me of a gentler version of Indiana Jones and detailed discussions of whale anatomy and evolutionary descent... The author is a good teacher, thorough and with a fine sense of humor." -- Rob Hardy The Columbus Dispatch "Thewissen provides an excellent balance between the science and the narrative... an excellent read." -- T. A. Franz-Odendaal CHOICE
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About J. G. M. 'Hans' Thewissen

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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Rating details

87 ratings
4.09 out of 5 stars
5 36% (31)
4 44% (38)
3 16% (14)
2 3% (3)
1 1% (1)
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