A Whale of a Tale
Copyright © 1995-1997 by Darby South
[Last update: September 2, 1995]
ver the time that I have been reading and contributing to talk.origins, I have seen references to a fossil whale found in California that was alleged to have been buried and fossilized in a vertical position. The first reference was by Ted Holden (email@example.com) in article <firstname.lastname@example.org> that was posted in January of 1995. This post consisted of material from The Velikovskian that was posted by Mr. Holden at the request of Mr. Charles Ginenthal. In the material from the The Velikovskian, Mr. Ginenthal wrote:
Twenty-two years later, in 1976, the complete fossil skeleton of a baleen whale was uncovered in Lompoc, California, in a bed of diatomaceous earth along with a small seal, other small whales, fish and birds.
From this fossil whale and other fossils, Mr. Ginenthal concluded:
The evidence of marine animals that has been found could only be created by immense, recent, oceanic tidal waves. If the floods across North America were caused by ice-domed lakes, they would have washed away all evidence of these whale bones and other marine materials; none of the floods would reach Mexico or the Bahamas.
Similarly, Jeff Dejong (email@example.com), on Jul 21, 1995, wrote:
Lets see, a world wide flood. Would a layer of silt which surround the earth constitute proof by any chance, or how about whales which have been discovered running perpendicular to the geological layers. Running through say 50 million years of strata! This suggest that the layers of geological time where layed down fairly quick.
And in May of 1995 Mr. D. W. Leon (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote:
How do you explain whale skeletons found in a vertical position in diatomaceous earth (evolution cannot explain it, because for the diatoms to drop out of the water and engulf a whale would be a singular, rapid event of cataclysmic proportions).
Besides appearing on talk.origins, the claim that a 80 ft-long whale was buried standing on tail has appeared within the creationist literature. Videos and pamphlets of the Creation Science Evangelism out of Pensacola, Florida frequently claim that the existence of this same fossil whale from a diatomaceous earth quarry near Lompoc, California is clear proof of the Noachian Flood. This same story has also appeared in creationist journals, e.g. Creation Ex Nihilo (Anonymous 1988). The most detailed account about this vertically buried 80-ft long whale is published in a secular collection of geological mysteries collected in Corliss (1980). Because of the continuing reappearance of this story, however infrequent, a FAQ was prepared on the strange case of the whale that was alleged to have been buried standing on its tail.
It is in only Corliss (1980) and Mr. Ginenthal's article that the source of this story is cited. The article that they both cite is Russel (1976). It stated that a fossil baleen whale was found in a vertical position, "standing on end in the quarry...the fossil may be close to 80 ft long...." in the GREFCO diatomite quarries near Lompoc, California. Almost immediately, creationists, e.g. Heimick (1977) and Olney (1977), jumped at this news brief and wrote letters-to-the-editor in claiming that only a Biblical Flood could explain this fossil. From similarities in later accounts published by Creation Ex Nihilo, Creation Science Evangelism, and as talk.origins posts, it is quite apparent they all are talking about this same whale described by Russel (1976) and commented on by Heimick (1977) and Olney (1977).
The Real Story: Just the Facts
Had anybody taken the time and trouble to check the facts, they would have found that the story by Russel (1976) took some liberty with the facts and lacked very important information. First, the skeleton was not found in a vertical position, but was lying at an angle 50 to 40 degrees from horizontal. Finally, although at this angle, the whale skeleton lay parallel to the bedding of strata which at one time was the sea floor on which the dead whale fell after its death. These facts were confirmed by inquiring with the people at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History who excavated the whale. Although nothing had been published on the whale, Russel (1976) clearly identified the staff who excavated the skeleton and they could have been easily called at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles, California.
The strata containing the whale consists of diatomites that accumulated within deep bays and basins that lay along the Pacific coastline during Miocene times. As a result of folding and tectonics associated with the formation of the Transverse Ranges, the strata containing the enclosed skeleton has been tilted into a less-than vertical position. These sediments lack any sedimentary structures that would indicate catastrophic deposition. Rather, the strata exhibit laminations indicative of slow accumulation on an anoxic bay bottom. Within the adjacent strata, several hardgrounds occurs. A hardground is a distinctive cemented layer of sedimentary rock that forms when the lack of sediments being deposited over a very long period of time on the sea bottom allows the surface sediments to become cemented (Isaac 1981, Garrison and Foellmi 1988). In fact, identical sediments are currently accumulating without the involvement of a Noachian-like flood within parts of the Gulf of California (Curray et al. 1992; Schrader et al. 1982).
Furthermore, a partially buried, articulated whale skeleton slowly being covered by sedimentation in the deep ocean off the coast of California was observed by oceanographers diving in submersibles. It is an excellent modern analogue of how this particular whale fossil was created without the need of a Noachian Flood (Allison et al. 1990; Smith et al. 1989).
The geology of these quarries is documented by publications of the California Division of Mines and Geology (Dibblee 1950, 1982) United States Geological Survey geological maps (Dibblee, 1988a, 1988b), graduate students at University of California, Los Angeles (Grivetti 1982), and field trip guidebooks (Isaacs 1981). The other whale skeletons which have been found in these quarries lie parallel to the bedding and owe their modern attitude to tectonics rather then some mythical catastrophe. The written documentation for the attitude of the whale skeletons is contained within field notes and locality records of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles, California.
It appears the creationists repeating this whale-of-a-tale, (including the editors of Creation Ex Nihilo) either failed to check their facts or didn't want a good story to be ruined by the facts. In either case, none of these people apparently took the time and trouble to find out what the facts were before putting pen to paper. What they claim to be God's truth is nothing more than an urban folktale used to validate personal religious beliefs.
What was found to be most disturbing was the tendency for creationists to deliberately omit specific locational data and references. Thus, they made it as difficult as possible for a person to independently confirm the data on which they offered as proof of a Biblical world-wide flood. As a result, only someone who had come across Corliss (1980) and Mr. Ginenthal's article could track down Russel (1976) and by comparing descriptions of this fossil whale to Anonymous (1988) and other places where it was used evidence by creationists determine the source of the claims about a 80-ft fossil whale having been found in California buried in a vertical position. It almost seems that the people making the claims about this whale being evidence for a catastrophic or Noachian Flood wanted the reader take their claims taken as a matter of faith as being true and make it impossible for anybody to check the veracity of the story. This is propaganda, not science in the form of paragraph- to page-size versions of media sound-bites.
In addition, Mr. Charles Ginenthal in The Velikovskian (as posted by Ted Holden) appears to have quoted from a secondary source, without apparently looking up the original article, because the reference that he gives for the whale article is badly garbled. Compare his reference given below to Russel (1976):
18 Frederic B. Jueneman, "Workers Find Whale in Diatomaceous Earth Quarry," Chemical and Engineering News 54 (October 11,1976): 40.
According to museum staff at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles the whale that started this particular piece of folklore in 1976 still remains in its cast on a flatcar in one of the GREFCO diatomaceous earth quarries as a result of lack of the money and space needed to curate it. Currently, it is rumored to have a small tree growing in it. If this story is true, the story of the "whale found on its tail", in addition to being completely false, has a sad ending.
Cited and Additional References
Allison, P. A., Smith, C. R., Kukert, H., Deming, J. W., and Bennett, B. A., 1990, Deep-water taphonomy of vertebrate carcasses: a whale skeleton in the bathyal Santa Catalina Basin. Paleobiology. vol. 17, pp. 78-89.
Anonymous. 1988. Polystratic Fossils. Creation Ex Nihilo. 10(2):25.
Brace, Thompson J., 1994, The fossil fish of the California coast. Rock-and-Gem. 24. (6). p. 68-72
Corliss, William R. 1980. Polystrata Fossils. Unknown Earth: A Handbook of Geological Enigmas, The Sourcebook Project. Glen Arm, Maryland. pp. 643-644.
Curray, J. R, and Moore, D. G., 1982, Introduction to the Guaymas Slope and laminated diatomite symposium in Curray, J. R., and others Initial reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project covering Leg 64 of the cruises of the drilling vessel Glomar Challenger, Mazatlan, Mexico to Long Beach, California, December, 1978 - January, 1979; Part 2. Initial-Reports-of-the-Deep-Sea-Drilling-Project. 64. no. 2., p. 1179-1191
Dibblee, Thomas W., Jr., 1950, Geology of Southwestern Santa Barbara County. California Division of Mines and Geology Bulletin. 150, 95 pp.
Dibblee, Thomas W., Jr., 1982, Geology of the Santa Ynez-Topatopa Mountains. in Fife, D. L., Minch, J. A. (eds.), p. 41-56., Geology and mineral wealth of the California Transverse Ranges; Mason Hill volume. South Coast Geol. Soc., Los Angeles, CA.
Dibblee, Thomas W., Jr., 1988a, Geologic Map of the Lompoc Hills and Surf Quadrangles, Santa Barbara County, California. 1:24,000, United State Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia.
Dibblee, Thomas W., Jr., 1988b, Geologic Map of the Lompoc Hills and Point Conception Quadrangles, Santa Barbara County, California. 1:24,000, United State Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia.
Garrison, R. E., Foellmi, K. B., and others, 1988, Phosphatic Hardgrounds and Hiatus Concretions in Neogene Marine Sequence of California Coastal Range. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin 72(3):381.
Grivetti, Mark C., 1982, Aspects of the Stratigraphy, Diagenesis, and Deformation in the Monterey Formation near Santa Maria-Lompoc, California. Unpublished M.S. thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, California.
Heimick, Larry S. 1977. Strange Phenomena. Chemical and Engineering News. 55(4):5.
Isaacs, C. M., 1981, Field Trip Guide for the Monterey Formation, Santa Barbara Coast, California. Pacific Section for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Menlo Park, California. 55 pp.
Jenkins, D., Diatomaceous earth operations, Grefco Inc., Lompoc, California, 1982, in Fife, D. L., Minch, J. A. (eds.), p. 513-515., Geology and mineral wealth of the California Transverse Ranges; Mason Hill volume. South Coast Geol. Soc., Los Angeles, CA.
Olney III, Harvey O. 1977. A Whale of a Tale. Chemical and Engineering News. 55(12):4.
Ozalas, K., Savrda, C. E., and Fullerton, R. R., 1990, Bank-top Related Ichnofossil Associations in Miocene Siliceous Strata (Monterey Formation, Central California). Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 22(7):308.
Russel, K. M. 1976. Workers Find Whale in Diatomaceous Earth Quarry. Chemical and Engineering News. 54(41):48. (October 4, 1976 issue).
Schrader-H; Kelts-K; and others, 1982, Laminated diatomaceous sediments from the Guaymas Basin slope (central Gulf of California); 250,000-year climate record. Science. 207. (4436). p. 1207-1209.
Smith, C. R., Kukert, H., Wheatcroft, R. A., Jumars, P. A., and Deming, J. W., 1989. Vent fauna on whale remains. Nature, vol. 341, pp. 27-28. (Set. 7, 1989).
Zawacki, R. L., 1974, Xyne grex, Revisited. Unpublished M.S. thesis, Department of Biology, University of Los Angeles, California.
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