The Origin of Whales - Darwin Day

February 02, 2012

Darwin DayOnce upon a time, about 50 million years ago, a deer-like mammal called Indohyus waded into shallow water.  He might have been fleeing a predator or eating tasty aquatic plants.

Today, he's recognized by evolutionary scientists as an ancient relative of modern whales.

The fascinating and complex story of whale evolution will be explored in a public lecture on Thursday, Feb. 9, as the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater joins organizations around the world celebrating Darwin Day.

The campus event features an address by Hans Thewissen, an expert on the evolution of whales who in 2007 announced the discovery of the missing link between whales and their terrestrial ancestors with a fossil skeleton of Indohyus from the Kashmir region of India.

Thewissen will speak at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in Timmerman Auditorium in Timothy J. Hyland Hall.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

UW-Whitewater joins organizations around the world celebrating Darwin Day with events on or around Feb. 12, the day in 1809 when evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin was born.

"Scientists feel it's really important to remember Darwin's life and the significance of his work,'' said Robert Kuzoff, an associate professor of biology at UW-Whitewater.

Thewissen is a professor in the anatomy department of Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy in Rootstown, Ohio. Scientists since Darwin have known that whale ancestors walked on land, and Thewissen is a leader in identifying fossils that establish the evolutionary transition.

His campus speech is called "Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin! Documenting Macroevolution in the Origin of Whales."

Audience members may include area high school students who have been learning about whale evolution from UW-Whitewater biology students visiting their schools, Kuzoff said.