An interesting story surrounds the following passage from the first edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Here’s the passage:
In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.
My first interest in this passage is the sheer silliness of the idea that whales evolved from land mammals. It is, I think, one of the most outlandish suggestions (I’m being kind here) made by scientists today, up there with the multiverse and Panspermia. Dr. Carl Werner lists no less than nine parts of the small land mammal (he uses the so-called Pachyaena a so-called hyena-like creature as his subject) that would have to change by chance mutations in order for the hyena to become a whale.
- The hyena would have to develop a dorsal fin
- The bony tail of the hyena would have to change into a cartilaginous fluke
- The hyena’s teeth would have to develop into a huge baleen filter
- The hyena’s hair would have to nearly disappear and be replaced by blubber for insulation through chance mutations in the DNA
- The nostrils would have to move from the tip of the hyena’s nose to the top of the whale’s head, disconnect from the mouth passage, and form a strong muscular flap to close the blowhole
- The hyena’s front legs would have to change into pectoral fins
- The hyena’s body would have to increase in size from 150 pounds to 400,000 pounds
- The hyena’s external ears would have to disappear and then develop to compensate for high-pressure diving to 1,640 feet deep
- The hyena’s back legs would have to disappear
According to Werner, the odds of this happening would be 1 in 364 followed by 1,625 zeros or less likely than throwing 2,000 dice at one time and all of them coming up “3.”
Darwin got a lot of flak for the above passage. It threatened to derail the success of his theory. One story has it that Professor Richard Owen prevailed upon Darwin to leave out the passage about bears evolving into whales. But James T. Costa tells a different story. Here’s his account:
The bear and whale comparison became a sore point. When Darwin told Richard Owen that he dropped the example for the next Origin edition, Owen replied, “Oh have you, well I was more struck with this than any other passage; you little know of the remarkable & essential relationship between bears & whales.” Darwin swallowed the line and restored the passage; far from believing any such relationship, however, Own scathingly wrote in his review of the Origin: “We look . . . in vain for any instance of hypothetical transmutation in Lamarck so gross as the one above cited” (Owen 1860, p.518). In the remaining editions of the Origin, Darwin simply inserted a qualifier: “. . . catching, almost like a whale, insects in the water” (emphasis mine.)
However, the addition of the word almost has not been the only adjustment in this section of Darwin’s Origin. The 1909 Edition, published by P. F. Collier & Son of New York, merely says, “In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, almost like a whale, insects in the water.” Gone is the last part of the paragraph where Darwin imagines that, with no competition for bugs, a “race of bears . . . more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths” might eventually produce a creature “as monstrous as a whale.”
I would like to tell you that scientists have seen the folly in imagining such a thing. Werner reports that, “Modern evolution scientists do not believe that whales evolved from a black bear by acquired characteristics and natural selection as Charles Darwin once speculated.” Whew! Thank goodness, right? No. Werner goes on to explain, “They now theorize that whales evolved from a land animal through a complicated series of chance mutations in the DNA of the reproductive cells.” Complicated indeed!
 Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species: Classic Illustrated Edition (Kindle Locations 2375-2379). Heritage Illustrated Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Carl Werner, Evolution: The Grand Experiment, Vol. 1, (Green Forest AR: New Leaf Press, 2014), 40-54.
 See Werner.
 James T. Costa, The Annotated Origin: A Facsimile of the First Edition of On the Origin of Species, (London: Harvard University Press, 2011), 184.
 Werner, 42.