Mysterious Whale Fossils Found in Desert

Which whale of a tale is true?

Whale fossils protruding from Cerro Ballena cliffs in Chile’s Atacama Desert north of Caldera, thanks to a road-widening project, are finally being excavated. The fossil graveyard’s census is now up to 75 whales and includes at least 20 perfectly intact specimens. The fossil bonanza is spawning some fantastic fish tales in an effort to explain how the bus-sized aquatic beasts got there.

The Smithsonian’s Nicholas Pyenson, who is working with Chilean paleontologist Mario Suarez on the excavation, says, “I think they died more or less at the same time. . . . There are many ways that whales could die, and we're still testing all those different hypotheses.” He says the region used to be a “lagoon-like environment” and believes the whales died 2 million to 7 million years ago. The scientists have yet to publish their findings, but a variety of opinions have been advanced to explain how these whales ended up half a mile from the ocean in the high dry Atacama Desert.

Vertebrate paleontologist Erich Fitzgerald, commented on the find, “The fossils are exceptionally well preserved and quite complete — a rare combination in paleontology and one that will likely shed light on many facets of the … ecology and evolution of these extinct species.” Despite this phenomenal preservation, Fitzgerald thinks it possible “these fossilized remains may have accumulated over a relatively long period of time,” the Associated Press release suggesting they could have even “died there over a period of a few millennia.”

Most of the fossils are baleen whales, although the collection already includes a sperm whale and an extinct two-tusked dolphin.

Creation scientists point out . . . that the warm mineral-rich waters produced by the Flood would have been able to support the catastrophic diatom bloom evidenced at Pisco, causing aquatic death on a massive scale.

The only other known specimen of this dolphin was found farther north in Peru’s famous Pisco Formation, a fossil graveyard containing 346 whales. The Pisco Formation has excited controversy because uniformitarian scientists cannot see how the diatomite sediment in which the fossils are preserved could have been rapidly produced to cause the simultaneous death and burial of hundreds of whales. Creation scientists point out, however, that the warm mineral-rich waters produced by the Flood would have been able to support the catastrophic diatom bloom evidenced at Pisco, causing aquatic death on a massive scale.1

Since information on the geology of the new find and the specifics of fossil descriptions, such as whether baleen is well-preserved as in Pisco specimens, is not yet available, most speculation will have to wait. However, the excellent preservation of the Cerro Ballena fossils demands a catastrophic cause. If Cerro Ballena turns out to be part of the same geologic formation as Pisco, the cause of death may indeed by the same. The 2 million to 7 million year estimate of the cetacean catastrophe is consistent with the 2.6 million year date conventionally estimated for the first post-Flood Ice Age deposits. Once the data become available, post-Flood catastrophes and conditions prevailing in the wake of the Flood will likely provide a logical explanation for how this large cache of cetacean victims found themselves beached and buried in the desert.2

Of course, the Bible is not consistent with the millions of years estimate. Such dates come from methods based on uniformitarian assumptions disregarding the impact of events like the Flood on earth’s geological history. (See Radiometric Dating: Back to Basics, Radiometric Dating: Problems with the Assumptions, and Radiometric Dating: Making Sense of the Patterns.) The Bible’s chronology is internally consistent and provides an age of the earth of about 6,000 years. The global Flood occurred about 1,700 years after earth’s creation, and the Ice Age it triggered—based on computer simulations of climate conditions—likely occurred within a few hundred years. The global Flood and post-Flood catastrophes explain the majority of the fossil record and would have certainly remodeled the surface of the earth. We look forward to hearing more about the discoveries at Cerro Ballena and are confident that a combination of scientific observation and the answers in Genesis will tell which whale tales might be true.

For More Information: Get Answers

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, FOX News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch all the latest News to Know, why not take a look to see what you’ve missed?

(Please note that links will take you directly to the source. Answers in Genesis is not responsible for content on the websites to which we refer. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.)


  1. Leonard R. Brand et al., “Fossil Whale Preservation Implies High Diatom Accumulation Rate in the Miocene-Pliocene Pisco Formation of Peru,” Geology 32, no. 2 (February 2004): 165–168, doi:10.1130/G20079.1. See chapter 115 of Dr. Snelling’s book Earth’s Catastrophic Past for more information about the rapid formation of pristine diatomite beds.
  2. Editor’s note, September 2020: As Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell surmised, the data does bear out catastrophic mass burials over a short time period caused by a toxic algal bloom(s). The data seems to show that there may have been more than a single event, which occurred rapidly, and subsequent death, beaching, and burial events likely happened within a few months to years. The Bahía Inglesa Formation at Cerro Ballena is conventionally dated at between 9.03–6.45 MY (which is older than the Peruvian Pisco Formation mentioned above). And the deposits where the whales are located are believed to have occurred over a period of approximately 10–16,000 years of deposition, based on uniformitarian sedimentation rates for modern tidal flats. However (as the article states) the early post-flood conditions would have been ideal for the proposed catastrophic scenario. There would have been elevated rapid sedimentation rates as the very warm ocean waters would have spawned hypercanes, which would have caused extremely high precipitation rates in the region. These weather conditions would have rapidly eroded the continents and dumped much higher-than-normal sediment into the oceans. This would have also enriched the waters with minerals and created the perfect conditions for algal blooms, and for those which exhibit toxicity, they could have been deadly for large numbers of baleen whales. A 2014 study on the formation confirmed Dr. Mitchell’s suspicions that such toxic algal blooms were the likely cause of death, subsequent beaching, and rapid burial. And the proposed 10,000–16,000 years of sedimentary deposition could easily be compressed in an early post-flood, YEC timeline to a few months-to-years scale.


Get the latest answers emailed to you.

I agree to the current Privacy Policy.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA, and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390