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Monday, August 6, 2012

Why We’re Naked and Why Mermaids Could Possibly Exist

Exploring The Rejected “Aquatic Ape Theory”

By TCC Team Member Dorraine Fisher

     Even though the Discovery Channel’s recent special about mermaids was a dramatization, the theory behind it, the aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH),  is sound and credible whether science wants to believe it or not. It presents a pretty sensible solution to the question of why humans are the only naked ape. But to this day, it’s still rejected by scientists in the mainstream.

     First introduced by marine biologist Alister Hardy in 1960, the aquatic ape hypothesis was brought to the attention of the public by a probing press, but it was first explained in better detail  by Welsh writer Elaine Morgan. I first became familiar with her work years ago when I read her best-selling book, The Descent Of Woman that had first been published back in 1970.
     Aquatic theory, in a nutshell, attempts to explain why we humans evolved differently in many key ways from other apes. Why are we the only naked ape? Why are we the only apes that cry? Why do we have webbed fingers? Why do we take to the water so well unlike other apes, and why are our offspring born knowing how to swim? Why does our heart rate slow when we dive into the water unlike other apes? Why are we more streamlined than other apes? And why do we retain more body fat than they do?
   Morgan, who wasn’t a paleontologist or anthropologist, but an articulate writer who had written for many scientific journals and knew her subject well, explained it all to the public in layman’s terms, causing many people to embrace the hypothesis. Many except the scientific community that has, over 40 years later, not given a satisfactory explanation of why they reject it so strongly.

AAH gives a more pertinent viewpoint about everything that’s different about humans.
            Morgan explained that in some very early history of the evolutionary story, humans entered the water at some point for the purpose of survival. There are many reasons this could have happened. Food sources there would have been easy to acquire and plentiful. Many of the most dangerous predators in Africa didn’t necessarily like the water, so it would have been a safe haven for our ancestors at that time who were much smaller, easier targets. Especially the females who may have been on their own part of the time, often carrying an infant, making them twice as vulnerable to danger. Interestingly, human babies are born knowing how to “swim” in a way. And they automatically hold their breath in the water. Why is this? No other primate babies have that skill.

     Why are we the only naked ape? AAH says that most animals that have become aquatic at some point have lost most of their hair. Whales, manatees, and hippos to name a few. Scientists recently discovered an ancestor of the rhinoceros that was believed to have spent most of its time in the water, explaining its hair loss. And many believe the same thing happened to elephants, who are to this day, excellent swimmers and love the water.
     Why do we have webbed toes and fingers? If you look at a chimps hands, you’ll find no trace of any such webbing. And the interesting thing about this phenomena is that in looking at modern water retrievers, you’ll notice they have webbed toes. And this is something that has developed within a very short time in history; perhaps a couple hundred years. So our human ancestors wouldn’t necessarily have had to remain aquatic for very long in order for these kinds of changes to take place.
     Why do we retain body fat in a way no other apes on earth do? Maybe it’s because other animals that have become aquatic and lost their hair, have at the same time, developed a layer of subcutaneous fat for warmth and the protection of vital organs and tissue. Manatees, whales, hippos and others all evolved more body fat to adapt to life in the water.
    And why do we seem to be so streamlined and designed for the water. We need only to watch Olympic divers to see how well humans have adapted to life in the water. No other ape has that streamlined, almost fish-shaped body so well suited to moving through the water with ease. And our heart rate actually slows when we dive into the water? Why is that? Perhaps to conserve the much needed oxygen while we’re holding our breath underwater. This wouldn’t be necessary had we not been spending a lot of time in the water at some time in history.

And the list goes on. All our quirkiest traits can be explained by this hypothesis.
So if we choose to aspire to the theory, is it much of a stretch to think that mermaids of a sort could exist? Perhaps not the type we recognize from familiar folklore, but something different than we may imagine. Maybe small groups of these aquatic apes returned to land after a time, and maybe other groups simply stayed in the water and developed more fine-tuned adaptations in order to remain there. Like hands with better webbing, stronger lungs, transformation of legs to a tail fin, etc. If we think of it this way, it’s not completely beyond the realm of possibility.
  We know from chasing Bigfoot around the forests, that just because we’ve never actually seen a creature, doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist. And this idea is no different. *********

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