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.
About the Author
J. G. M. “Hans” Thewissen is Ingalls-Brown Endowed Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Northeast Ohio Medical University. He is coeditor of Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2002), Emergence of Whales (1998), and Sensory Evolution on the Threshold (2008).
"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."
"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
"Delightful reading . . . Thewissen's book is a fine account."
— Rob Hardy
"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
"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
"Thewissen provides an excellent balance between the science and the narrative. . . . an excellent read."
— T. A. Franz-Odendaal