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Dinosaurs that swim

23 May 2018

Robert sent in this link … which is actually a few years old. At http://brianjford.com/w-dino01.htm … dinosaurs are usually thought to be great lumbering land animals, or perhaps with a fondness for a swamp. However, how such a beast managed to keep its huge tail aloft is a basic problem as no actual marks of tails touching the ground have ever been found fossilised – but marks of crocodile tails have been fossilised. The latter move along the ground of course but just keeping a big dinosaur's tail aloft was no mean feat. Also, artists impressions of big dinosaurs feeding in swamps and wetlands it also a problem – how did such animals not get stuck in the oozy mud. They were so heavy it would have been impossible to pull themselves out of a quagmire. Or that is the thinking that led to the idea of dinosaurs swimming.

Dinosaur remains are often found in former watery environments – or very close to the water margin. The new theory is that their massive weight was sustained by buoyancy- they evolved, it is said, not as land animals but as aquatic creatures. The fossil evidence is said to support this view. He is essentially talking about the Sauropods – and they lived in shallow seas and lakes using their long tail for buoyancy. The idea of holding these huge tails aloft on dry land may be quite wrong as it wastes so much energy and has no evolutionary benefit (or one that is obvious). The theory also requires a reappraisal of sedimentary geology. Vast beds of clay, it is proposed, do not define flood plains and wetland environments so much as dried up lake beds. In a catastrophist scenario it does not matter if dinosaurs were land or water based animals –  but the huge beds of clay would play a role. It is possible that dinosaur remains are often found in what were watery environments because they were swept up in massive tidal waves – that may have emptied lakes instantly.

For a sympathic view of aquatic dinosaurs go to https://www.theguardian.com/science/lost-worlds/2014/jun/16/were-dinosau… … and for a sceptical view go to https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/aquatic-dinosaurs-not-so-f… … where we are assured all dinosaurs lived on land (apart from the feathered variety that took to the sky). The critique is heavily laden with an ad hominem attack on Brian Ford (the refuge of the scoundrel) but the claim is that paleontologists have carefully worked out bone structure and various other theories in order to substantiate their own theories (which are accepted by mainstream). Ford's theory appears to have got the goat of your average paleontologist and the guy quoted by Smithsonian is particularly incensed that Ford is a cell biologist and not a dinosaur expert. He really has his nickers in a twist, so to speak, and the virulence of his response is probably why the story died a death (until resurrected by Robert who went to Ford's blog for an entirely different purpose, and happened to click on the page on the aquatic dinosaurs).

However, to get at the real reasons why paleontologists reject the aquatic theory you can go to https://scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/brian-j-ford-s-aquatic-d… … where the author actually had the presence of mind to attend a talk by Brian J Ford and then set about explaining with diagrams etc the bone structure involved. Dinosaur bones were much lighter than those of mammals and so much so they were up to 80 per cent air – which would cause them a problem in water. This is of course the mainstream view of dinosaur physiology and one is left thinking Brian Ford stumbled into the dinosaur debate without really researching the latest thinking by paleontologistd. However, it was originally thought dinosaurs lived in swamps and wetland environments (rather than shallow seas and lakes) so he was not entirely off beam. One has to wonder how much of this bone structure theory was devised in order to get around the gravity problem – the sheer size of some dinosaurs. As in all science subjects the specialists defend the status quo. Often, new theories are proposed by outsiders (from other disciplines, or even by Joe Bloggs) as a new set of eyes to a problem can often come up with a novel explanation. It is not likely that Ford is that new set of eyes – although he obviously thought he was (at the time). New theories are for reading but it is whether or not it impresses the specialists if the theory has lift-off. In these days it is more difficult not only for outsiders to convince insiders but for insiders to consider the view of outsiders as legitimate – simply as peer pressure is against anyone invading their bubbles. The pompous rambling of the Smithsonian guy illustrates just what a problem a paleontologist sympathetic to a novel idea would face – an avalanche of vitriol. Is this a fine example of herd mentality. Keep your mouth shut to avoid peer ridicule. No wonder cosmologists are caught in their bubble, and no wonder climate scientists think there is nothing wrong with tampering with the data. What we require are a few more renegades in order to stir the pots of a lot of comfy mainstream puddles.

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