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Good Reads  Mammals  Marine Mammals  Whales & Dolphins (Cetacea)

The Walking Whales From Land to Water in Eight Million Years

By: JGM Thewissen(Author), Jacqueline Dillard(Illustrator)
245 pages, 67 colour & b/w photos and colour & b/w illustrations
A wonderfully illustrated journey into whale palaeontology
The Walking Whales
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  • The Walking Whales ISBN: 9780520305601 Paperback Apr 2019 In stock
Price: £25.00
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles Recommended titles

About this book

Hans Thewissen, a leading researcher in the field of whale palaeontology and anatomy, gives a sweeping first-person account of the discoveries that brought to light the early fossil record of whales, as the animals evolved from herbivorous forest-dwelling ancestors that looked like 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 in chronological order, weaving a narrative that exposes the day-to-day adventures of fossil collection and enriching it with local flavours of South Asian culture and society. The reader senses both the excitement of the digs and also the scientific dynamics, wherein each insight that is reached gives rise to new questions and wherein at times the logistics of just staying alive may trump all science.

In order to reach a deep understanding of how modern whales live their lives, Thewissen journeys to Japan and Alaska to study wild dolphins and whales. He finds answers to his questions about fossils by studying otters and porpoises, and by studying whale embryos under the microscope. In the 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.


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
A Trust for Fossils

15. The Way Forward
The Big Question
Tooth Development
Baleen as Teeth


*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.

Customer Reviews


J. G. M. 'Hans' Thewissen is the Ingalls-Brow endowed Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the Northeast Ohio Medical University. His main research interest is the study of whales, their adaptations to life in water, and their origin from land mammals. He discovered the skeleton of the first-known whale that could walk on land, Ambulocetus, in 1994, and led more than 10 field expeditions each to Pakistan and India, collecting fossil whales. Thewissen's research is supported by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society and he has published more than 100 scientific papers, including 10 in Science and Nature. He is coeditor of three books: Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2002); Emergence of Whales (1998); and Sensory Evolution on the Threshold (2008).

By: JGM Thewissen(Author), Jacqueline Dillard(Illustrator)
245 pages, 67 colour & b/w photos and colour & b/w illustrations
A wonderfully illustrated journey into whale palaeontology
Media reviews

- 2015 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

"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

"The ease with which the book is read and digested allows these very important discoveries far more scope and audience than a scientific paper prepared for professionals in the paleontological field."

"Underscores the intellectual vacuum underlying intelligent design and offers much for conventional biologists and cryptozoologists to ponder [...] Highly Recommended."
Fortean Times

"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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