Skip to content

Aquatic Apes: True or False?

Elaine Morgan defends  the idea that man evolved from aquatic apes. She reintroduces Alister Hardy’s hypothesis that humans were more aquatic in the past. From her video on TED begins with a rejection of the Savannah Hypothesis regarding fossilized pollen as proof humans were wandering around on two legs before the savannah ecosystem came into existence. Before this clarification bipedalty was strictly savannah behavior. The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis states our hairless nature evolved from our ancestors that lived in water. The fat layer we have is inside the skin and would be our form of blubber compared to other aquatic mammals, excluding the sea otter. Our streamlined bodies are ideal for water and only aquatic mammals and humans have the ability to vocalize due to our conscious control of breath.

Algis Kuliukas, Ph.D. of bipedal origins, has attempted to understand why people have rejected the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis for so long. He believes it has been misunderstood. Humans do have some traits that are unusual in primates and more common in aquatic species. Apes tend to move in water bipedally the way we do on land. He says that going back to Hardy’s origin claim, perhaps we were more aquatic in the past. Kuliukas believes were lived beside water and were influenced by selective pressures that eventually changed us into who we are now.

John Moore has personally taken apart and dissected every claim Elaine Morgan has ever said about our aquatic ancestors. Hairlessness he says is not related to an aquatic past and the hair alignment difference between humans and apes does not prove we are more aquatic. All primates have salty tears, not just humans and aquatic mammals. Salt glands are not exclusive to marine reptiles and birds. Moore also reminds us all mammal infants naturally swim and non-human, non-aquatic mammals can also hold their breath. Non-human primates do not all have forward facing nostrils; most of the Old World primates have nostrils that face down. Sebaceous glands also cannot waterproof the skin.

My personal opinion is that Elaine Morgan and John Moore have too many contradictory facts to say the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is true. I find myself inclined to believe that Algis Kuliukas has a point. We share similarities with apes and some aquatic animals. Perhaps we simply spend more time beside water, on coasts, and then moved to the savannahs after experiencing some type of a selective pressure. Philip Tobias suggested this idea as “Waterside Hypothesis of Human Evolution”.  I do not believe we were ever truly “aquatic apes” because the facts just do not add up. The lack of fossil evidence in the ocean eliminates that idea; however if we think back to the ice age the shores receded and perhaps those fossils we need for the shore dwelling humans are in those sediments at the bottom of the sea today.


Tags: research essay

Thanks for reading! If this helped or you learned something, Buy Me A Coffee.