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July 01, 2006

Aquatic ape apostate

the dugong wants to lick me, originally uploaded by yeebieyayness.

Earlier, I mentioned that I was sympathetic towards the aquatic ape theory:

We've all got some irrational and/or ill-founded beliefs. For example, I'm sympathetic to the theory that humans evolved from aquatic apes. I can't prove it, or even make an especially compelling case for it, but it doesn't usually affect my work. So, I hope you won't hold it against me, even if it strikes you as odd.
Okay, not anymore. Just goes to show how wrong you can be. Thanks to coturnix for helping me integrate more smoothly into the reality-based community.

So, in honor of my renunciation of aquaticapism, today's FlickrFind is a picture of dugong, a real hairless aquatic mammal.


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I'm still sympathetic to the theory that we evolved from sea monkeys, and have no intention of renouncing this belief any time soon, unless coturnix can link a web site that convincingly proves otherwise. Be warned, coturnix: Any scathing critique of sea monkey theory better involve angels or Arthur Dent, or I ain't buying it.

Sea Monkeys and the aquatic
ape theory... Angles and Devils
in transition.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. --H. L. Mencken

I always thought that the "aquatic ape" theory was sort of a tongue-in-cheek joke. At least, that's what "The Cartoon History of the Universe" led me to believe.

My grandfather was as hirsute as any ape, but never learned to float or swim. My mother said the only time she ever got a real spanking from him was when she called him a baboon, which evidently cut a little too close to the bone. When he was to be shipped to Europe during WW II they pushed him into a pool to teach him to swim so as to be prepared for the transatlantic crossing. After the third time they pulled him out from underwater, they told him it didn’t really matter if he could swim or not, if the Nazis torpedoed his ship everyone would drown in the North Atlantic anyhow.

The North Pacific once had its own sirenian, the Steller’s sea cow, Hydrodamalis gigas, sadly hunted to extinction within thirty years of its discovery in 1741. It’s range was limited to the Kommandorskye and Blizhnie Islands where humans had never reached before. They were the size of minibuses, tasty, and utterly defenseless.

Ooops - I left my relevant comment on the previous post....

"That said, I'm sure you're open to empirical evidence proving you wrong on it."

I thought so.

I remember when I first heard about the aquatic ape theory, I thought it was fascinating. Science fiction can be like that, I see nothing wrong with that, nor anything wrong with advocating a fascinating theory until one is presented with convincing evidence to the contrary. People should not be embarrassed by their own ignorance. Its a natural state. All to often they are however, so its good to see people willing to admit when they have been.

Having had a bit of a look around the site, I hereby renounce the AAT, and all its works.

"I always thought that the "aquatic ape" theory was sort of a tongue-in-cheek joke. At least, that's what "The Cartoon History of the Universe" led me to believe."

I am a firm believer that we evolved from cartoon apes. The similarities shared by Spritle and Chim Chim are just too significant. I myself have been mistaken for Magilla Gorilla more than once.

And speaking of Dugongs, I am obliged to give my obligatory link of obligation to one of my favorite web sites:

Yeah! for the rational mind! Lindsey, you're just great. I have been arguing non-stop with people who use arguments based on MSM propaganda and silly talking points. Facts, when I bring them up and back them up with sources, carry all the weight of soap bubbles. It's just refreshing to see someone respond to factual information in such an honest fashion. I'm not at all surprised, becuse I've been reading your site for a while, and I'm impressed with your intelligent open-ness, it's just that I guess I'll never see a wingnut say "not anymore" when presented with the facts about the senseless war we're sunk in.

Hi Majikthise et al.,

I'm Jim Moore (aka QrazyQat or in some forums anthrosciguy) and I'm the guy who busted your bubble regarding the aquatic ape ( is my site). On the one hand I feel kinda bad that I encourage people to toss an appealing story like the AAT overboard, but then again, reality is so much more interesting and there is grandeur in this view of life. So I'm happy that you found the site helpful. BTW, if any of you looked at it (and are interested) more than a week or so ago I added a few pages on the more recent proponents' work and redid the 2 and 3 pages and the Summary, which I think makes some of the problems with it more easily understandable.

Jim, thank you so much for your excellent website. The biology you discuss is much more interesting than the aquatic ape stuff. I especially enjoyed the section about the physiology of diving mammals.

I'll certainly check out the new material.

Everyone else, thanks for being so nice about my recantation of aquatic apeism. I thought people were going to give me a really hard time about believing in it in the first place. :)

Jim, in your part about hairlessness, how relevant is the racial and sexual variation in hairiness? That is, do the fact that whites tend to be hairier than blacks and Asians, and the fact that men tend to be hairier than women, figure into the refutation of the AA argument from hairlessness?

Lindsay, again, it looks like a real scientific theory. It's not like creationism, which is manifestly false, and kept afloat only by religious fanaticism. It's a legitimate mistake, and everyone's entitled to make mistakes, especially someone who writes things like what you posted on Pandagon about false consciousness in relation to blowjobs.

Racial and sexual variation in (relative, remember) hairlessness is very relevant in a refutation of the AAT/H. They -- along with our life history (think when hair differences between the sexes shows up) shows that our hair patterns are definitely sexually selected. That may not be the be all and end all of our relative hairlessness (we actually have more hair follicles than most apes, with much thinner and shorter body hair) but it pretty well renders the AAT/H claims on that front moot. Also, it shows how quickly and easily hair can change -- I understand (from someone who knew quite a bit about the genetics of hair on dogs) that it's controlled by very few genes, and easily changed. BTW, this is interesting because, as I mention on my site, thee are several human features that the AAT/H proponents claim are due to environment which are actually, and rather obviously so, due to sexual selection (for instance fat and sebaceous glands).

Anyway, what you usually see in sexual selection are features that vary between the sexes, and vary from one group to another, and change radically at the period when the animal becomes more sexually mature -- this is exactly what we see in body hair in humans. There may be other reasons for body hair differences between apes and humans, but environmental determinism of the AAT/H variety does not explain them well at all.

One other thing I thought I'd mention about the "theoriness" of the AAT/H. I'd agree that it's not so easily seen as false as creationism (although sadly the proponents do way too many things we also see from creationists -- changing quotes, saying researchers say one thing when they say another, and making things up) but the idea covers so muchy ground that it's unusual to find anyone who knows about all of it. So you tend to think that maybe this part doesn't make much sense but all these other parts must, cause you only know about the one part of the data.

It needs a kinda nutty person like me, who has a bit of oddball background -- from helping my late wife, Nancy Tanner, with her human evolution research which covered a lot of varying ground in the subject of human evolution. Even then I didn't know how bad the research was until I dived in and went prowling around the libraries, and that's something I like but a lot of people have neither the time or the interest. I think that's largely why the idea has gone on so long and garnered as many followers as it has -- that and the appeal of a fun story.

The Descent of Woman struck me as very teleological. That lost the hypothesis points with me right there: Morgan kept saying that this or that change happened to make life happier for the protohumans.

I have always believed in an aquatic phase in the early evolution of man-like biped animals, and I still so believe.

I am no anthropologist nor have any particular academic specialisation for the hypothesis I believe in. On the other hand I have a very long association with wild life, and have studied the behavior of all animals in the forests surrounding my home town, in the plateau of Chotanagpur in India. I know very well how hard it is for any animal to survive in the wild unless they are tuned to the requirement of their environment. On the basis of this knowledge I have always believed that whatever the anthropologists say, man-like biped animals had to have an aquatic phase in their early evolution to biped stage.

Unarguably all baboons, monkeys and apes which forage on the ground today, had an arboreal phase before adapting to the terrestrial environment. For an arboreal creature the ground is a dangerous place to be. No doubt the movement from the trees to the ground was caused by some change in the environment. Did the forest give way to the grassland? Did the climate change the composition of the trees forcing these arboreal animals to forage on the ground, at least partially? On the ground they would have used either quadrupled or biped-knuckle movement. From quadrupled to biped-knuckle, all apes, baboon and monkeys are faster than man. This speed held the chance between life and death while foraging on the ground. Initial biped movement would have held no advantage for its owner, rather would make it a misfit in the competition for survival. Result would have been extinction for the biped.

The ground could not have given rise to biped apes unless the posture held some very salient feature which gave it an advantage. Could it have been that rainfall or glacial melts, or both, caused inundation of huge areas causing large swampy boundaries and interspersed with numerous islands where the arboreal creatures were now forced to the ground to supplement their food with foraging at the waters edge and swamps? Biped movement would have been an advantage while foraging in waist deep water. I can not think of any other natural circumstances why an arboreal animal would come down to the dangerous ground and evolve into a biped. If the separation of the smaller islands had segregated these colonies of arboreal creatures from the terrestrial predators it would have been an even greater reason for such an evolution.

I would like to believe that for some reason, nature created an entire area to be inundated causing many hundreds of small islands to get isolated by swampy lakes. On many such islands small populations of arboreal creatures were further isolated from the normal land predators. The predators either absent initially, or becoming extinct due to its natural prey being missing or gone extinct due to low population and predation. These small populations of arboreal creatures were either forced to feed on the ground by the changing fauna, or increased population. The natural forays into the swamp for edible vegetation and foraging for mollusk and crustaceans (like monkeys and baboons do on land for insects and fodder) would have given a start for the evolution towards bipedism. Longer legs and more erect stature would have given an advantage for deeper excursion into the swamp and also a faster escape from the great swamp predator, the crocodile.

The freeing of the hands and their use for gathering of food could lead to more mobility to the fingers especially if the arboreal habits were abandoned or reduced.

The geographical situation had to stay put with very small variation for an enormous period of time for any sort of evolution to take place. Foraging in swamps varies in its advantages. Some swamps are quite poor as a source of food; others can be very rich in what it offers. Even if this is an average swamp niche, it would be offering our isolated groups enough good source of protein in form of mollusk, insects, crustaceans, fish, larvae, egg deposits, etc. Such good protein sources would be an advantage for the brain development of our isolated groups.

Gathering of the richness of the swamps could also lead to coordinated action of individuals. Flocks of pelicans do it in concentrating schools of fish towards the shore, for advantages of fishing. You can splash jointly to make the fish hide against the shore or vegetation to enable to catch it with your hands. A group engaged in such an occupation could develop the rudiments of language.

All forest animals have a great deal of knowledge of the habits of its prey species. They know where the prey lurks at different times of the day, how they would behave to different stimuli. Such knowledge is acquired by observation, accident, and (I will stick my neck out) by brain-waves, and passed on to offsprings. Over time every wild animal is an encyclopedia of knowledge of the habits of all the creatures it preys on. This knowledge could lead to making of simple traps like a handful of sticks left in the water for shrimps and crabs to hide in at day-break to be lifted and harvested next morning, or bunches of dry reeds dumped on quite surfaces for the fish and amphibians to spawn on. The advantage of the freed hand from locomotion could lead to such activities, and such habits would lead our isolated groups to innovate and develop tools and weapons.

Stone to pound and break the tough shells of certain mollusk or sharp twigs to pull out the flesh from some other. Sticks to enhance the splashing to frighten the fishes towards the shore. Leading to the greater tool of using sharpened sticks to dart the fish gathered at the shore. Clubs of thicker branches to stun surface fish, amphibians or occasional land animal.

By this time the upright position would have evolved. This would lead to a further disadvantage of greater child birth death of mother/child. This too needed to be offsetted by the initial period of isolation and evolution for our isolated groups to escape extinction.

Unfortunately I don’t believe that the idyllic geographic situation held for our isolated groups to completely evolve into a very man-like creature. The swamps would have started to dry for some part of the annual circle, isolations disrupted for some period of the year leading to taking evasive action from predators. Problems which could lead to faster development and evolution of these isolated groups or lead to their extinction. Those that survived would now start on the road towards manlike-creatures evolving tools and weapons, language and habits, hunting and defensive behaviors to enable them to survive the harsher requirements from nature.

The diversity of our different isolated groups, both; in species of arboreal creatures they have evolved from, and the stage and habits they have evolved to, would allow these isolated groups to seek different niches to taken advantage of. Larger species may have an advantage on the grasslands or the smaller in an equatorial forest, the more aquatic along the river shores or sea shores. Nature would have dealt out cards for them to play. These different groups furry or naked, tall or short, massive or slight, large toothed or small toothed, big cranium or small, were not isolated any more. The paradise was lost forever and they went out into the wide world to live or die by the sweat of their brow in the best way they could.

That is exactly why I believe in the existence of the Yeti, Bigfoot, Hobbit, and like creatures if not till today but until very recent past.

Hi all. Nice to see AAT discussed.
AAT = sea/lake/riverside adaptations of human ancestors after the human/chimp divergence c.5 Ma (eg, Homo on Java & Flores).
For an update please see or google "aquarboreal"

Sorry to add a comment so late in the game, but since Marc Verhaegen showed up (I notice he's been wandering about plugging his site in old comments threads) I feel I should point out that the degree to which Verhaegen's claims can be relied on can be seen at my site's page on him (direct link) and his online style, as I mention on my site:

Online, besides his numerous insults in several languages, he commonly makes comparisons of himself and/or the AAT/H to Wegener (starting with his very first online post, after only a few days online), and he also commonly makes more offhand comparisons of himself and/or the AAT/H to Darwin, Galileo, and Einstein, as well as comparing the AAT/H theory to Copernicus').

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