ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • Geography, Nature & Weather

Was Man the Aquatic Ape?

Updated on November 10, 2009

We may be more different than the primates that previousy thought

Orang-utans:  The Arboreal Missionary Position!  That's one to try! photo
Orang-utans: The Arboreal Missionary Position! That's one to try! photo
The Chimpanzee; man's closest relative and look how unhappy he looks!
The Chimpanzee; man's closest relative and look how unhappy he looks!
Gorilla.  Look at his fat store in the abdomen.
Gorilla. Look at his fat store in the abdomen.
Dolphins might have once competed with man for food and are well used to us. photo
Dolphins might have once competed with man for food and are well used to us. photo
This babe is at home in the water.  Primate young are terrified. photo
This babe is at home in the water. Primate young are terrified. photo
Many doctors and mothers are finding giving birth in warm water is more natural and less stressful. photo
Many doctors and mothers are finding giving birth in warm water is more natural and less stressful. photo
Only man, all dolphins and whales and other marine creatures, and a couple of primate species like to gaze into one another's eyes while making love. photo
Only man, all dolphins and whales and other marine creatures, and a couple of primate species like to gaze into one another's eyes while making love. photo

In many ways, we may be closer to Dolphins than Primates

Was Man’s Immediate Ancestor an “Aquatic Ape?“

Mankind’s Watery Awakening.

Why we prefer the “missionary position.”

Babies can swim before they can crawl.

When we look at the skeletons of the higher apes which share the planet with us today: the Chimps, Gorillas and Orang-utans, we find so many differences to our own physiological make up, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that our ancestors who branched-off from the tree of all such mammals, spent a lot of their time imitating fish. In fact were semi-aquatic.

These conclusions are far from new and were, in fact, suggested in the 1930’s by Max Westenhofer in Germany and Alister Hardy in England. Their experiments and conclusions are still only a theory and there are still sceptics among members of the scientific community who follow the traditional view that our ancestors gradually became human in a hot, sere environment - developing as hunter-gatherers; developing biped upright walking and our language and tool-making skills.

There are some pretty strong arguments advanced by those who favour the aquatic ape scenario.

Body Hair We have little hair compared to all other primates, more typical of marine, wallowing animals. And the direction of growth would favour streamlining us to swim faster.

Body Fat Most mammals, including primates, keep insulated against extremes of heat and cold by trapping a layer of air at the root of their fur. We have a much thicker layer of fat than, say, primates, who only store fat in the abdominal area. This would indicate our need to insulate in water, which conducts heat far more efficiently than air. Also, like seals, this smoothing fat would aid in buoyancy and streamlining.

Perspiration Our ability to copiously sweat in hot weather is almost unique among other mammals, and denied to primates all together. This would combat our fat layer when we were on dry land - and salt, an important ingredient of sweat, is abundant in the sea.

Our kidneys These are unique among primates and rare in other terrestrial mammals in having an inner layer called the medulla with a highly irregular surface. This is used to clear salts and other chemical wastes from the blood into the urine. This arrangement is found in nearly all marine creatures and is common in terrestrial mammals which spend time in water and/or have had marine ancestors.

Bipeds We are unique amongst mammals in exclusively standing and moving on two feet. Although we have adapted to this and our whole environment is designed around it in modern man, it is really a highly suspect skill in that we are exposed to predation and tripping. Also, we could never generate the speed of “four legged” mammals. But this position is ideal for wading or swimming .

Swimming Babies are born with a natural aptitude towards skill in water. They know instinctively when to hold their breath and can swim before they can crawl! Birthing in warm water has become more common of late as mothers and doctors realize this is a lot less stressful than the artificial conditions of the hospital bed. On the other hand, primate babies are scared of water immediately.

Diving People find with practise they can hold their breath for a considerable distance, diving deep while doing so. This imitates the feeding patterns of aquatic mammals, such a dolphins, seals and birds such as penguins. This would ensure the whole variety of coastal sea-food was part of our diets, as it is today. Note that primates are nearly exclusively vegetarian (the exception generally being chimps who supplement their diets with meat and are our nearest brothers).

Speech The main reason we have such complex speech is our ability to control our breathing. Primates can barely learn to form words, although they have complete vocal ranges; they mainly communicate with sign language. This complexity might have come about because of our need to organize groups to control and catch schools of fish. Dolphins exhibit complex sounds when doing this today.

Crying, sex and our nose Only elephants possibly use tears to express grief apart from us. But this is more common amongst seals. We seem to prefer the “missionary position” when having sex - so do dolphins and whales, etc., but this is not found amongst land mammals, (except the lovable and loving orang-utans and bonobos) who are more of the doggie-position: “wham-bang, thank-you-ma’m” persuasion.” I note that this position seems to have become the norm now amongst humans, too; perhaps we are regressing, or survival is demanding less emotional involvement with our mates? The subject of another hub perhaps. Our noses might have evolved for us to lie on the surface of the water and breath more easily without water slopping in and are easily closed by our fingers when we dive.

(In fact, male orang-utans can be so emotionally involved with a mate that they die of their grief if she dies or is taken away…I saw this happening in Mexico City Zoo some time ago and it was heart-breaking to experience. These gentle giants are my favourite wild creature by a country mile).

In excerpting this story from a fascinating book, called “Water, Life in Every Drop,” by Julian Caldecott, I have had to leave much out in the interests of brevity. So much so, that what is left hardly makes the case I am postulating. So I recommend this book to you for a better understanding of this story as well as much more about the world’s water and ecology.

It might be appropriate to add that although much solid research seems to back-up the theory to a very great extent, it has not been accepted by anthropologists, etc., as a whole.  One of the problems is that not much in the fossil record is left to back up the claims and much speculation exists on how and why early man became semi-aquatic in the first place.  (Addressed in the book).  But it also raises many points about our physical makeup that has been hard to answer by any other model..


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Chris: Thanks for the warm words. I am sure dolphins sense something about us, because I have never heard of one attacking man, and they could easily do so being very efficient killers of their game. Whales rarely bother us, either, despite all we have done to them. Perhaps the wild life thinks, "Poor sods, they have enough troubles just being human!" Bob

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 7 years ago from Vermont, USA

      Supposedly, the whale was once a land animal, it's flukes still retaining the skeletal structure of fingers or toes.

      Could our ancestors have been a primate species that took to the water for an eon or so only to return to land once again?

      Perhaps we did share the salt seas with ancient dolphins and they remember better than we do, hence their natural affinity for us. (Though they are more "finny" than we!)

      I am having such a good time reading your hubs! I am glad to have found you.


    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 8 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hello JR. No, haven't read any other books on the subject, will try and do so. The trouble with hubbers like me is we are frauds in a way. More like journalists than scientists for sure. I have a decent wide spectrum of knowledge about the natural world, etc., but nothing in depth about any one facet of the area. Thanks for interest, will read your articles. Bob

    • J  Rosewater profile image

      J Rosewater 8 years ago from Australia

      Elaine Morgan postulates some of these theories in a book called The Descent of Woman, which I am sure you have read, Diogenes. These are all interesting hypotheses, and ones which I have debated at length with evolution theorists and philosphers of science. Caldecott and Morgan might also converge in their thinking when it comes to discussing the role of the female of primate species, especially ours. She attributes both speech and walking upright to the necessary and sufficient causes brought about by the acts of the female. Tell me what you think. Great hub.

    • profile image

      diogenes 8 years ago

      Many thanks for kind interest and comment...Bob

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

      I learned so much from your hub. Thank you for putting all these information together.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)