October 1, 2001
For the first hundreds of millions of years, the only living creatures on earth were, in fact, underwater. Then, some 350 million years ago, for reasons unknown, a primitive vertebrate crawled out of the water and stayed out. Richard Ellis, one of America’s foremost authorities on ocean life, now takes on the deep mysteries of evolution in the sea, tracing the path from the first microbes to jawless, finless creatures that became the myriad species alive today, including sharks, whales, seals, penguins, dolphins – and us.
Why (and how) did some creatures come to glow in the darkness of the deepest ocean? How does life now exist in the super-hot hydrothermal vents two miles below the surface? How did a land mammal turn into a bottlenose dolphin, or a flying bird into a deep-diving penguin? Which sea creatures are on the fast track to extinction?
Ellis’s detailed drawings bring animals to life that have not been seen for 400 million years, some that rival science fiction monsters for sheer weirdness. Early crocodiles and turtles were three times larger than they are today, and there was once a manatee that was 30 feet long and had no bones below the elbow. There were the trilobites, jointed animals with complex eyes that dominated the seas for 200 million years and then completely disappeared; sharks with teeth on their backs; and others, 50 feet long, with teeth the size of your hand.
Fifty million years ago, some land-dwelling mammals reentered the water and began the process of modification that turned them into whales: It was the most astonishing transformation in mammalian history. In Aquagenesis, you will track these changes and meet the paleontologists who have found the links between the terrestrial mammals and the first semiaquatic whales – creatures that probably looked like hyenas, huge shrews, or fat otters. Today the only animals on earth that regularly walk in an upright, two-legged stance are penguins and people. It is possible that our size, shape, stride, intelligence, and hair (or lack thereof) can also be explained by the provocative theory of the aquatic ape.
Aquagenesis is not only about the past – it is about how the past shaped the world we live in today. Join Richard Ellis on a fascinating tour of the paleontological history of the oceans, past, present, and future. You will be as astonished as he was at the wonder, richness, and complexity of the story.
Richard Ellis is a celebrated authority on marine biology and America’s leading marine life artist. He is the author of eleven books, including The Book of Sharks, Men and Whales, Deep Atlantic, Imagining Atlantis, and The Search for the Giant Squid, and has written for Natural History, Audubon, National Geographic, and many other magazines. His paintings and murals are featured in major museums around the country. Richard Ellis is also a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. He lives in New York City.