Monday, February 27, 2012

Aquatic Ape Hypothesis and Water Births

In Survival of the Sickest, I found the discussion about the aquatic ape hypothesis to be extremely interesting.  The hypothesis is strongly supported by Elaine Morgan, a writer who became interested in evolution and in particular reproduction.  Traditionally, the idea is that humans evolved from a chimpanzee or ape that moved from the forest to the plains.  Because of the change in their environment, they had to learn to walk upright to obtain food, and over time evolve in humans.  However, Morgan presents another theory that is supported by research conducted by marine biologist Alister Hardy. The aquatic ape hypothesis states that our distant ancestors spent a majority of time near water.  The ability to spend time on land or in water gave them protection from land animals (cheetahs) or water animals (crocodiles).  As a result, these apes would evolve towards bipedalism since “standing upright allowed them to venture into deeper water and still breathe, and the water helped to support their upper bodies, making it easier for their bodies to support them on two feet” (199).  This lifestyle near water also helps to explain why humans lost their fur, and developed downward-facing nostrils.  I never heard of this hypothesis before and was shocked when I read about it.  For me, it seems pretty convincing, and I would love to learn more about this theory.
Moalem goes on to relate this theory to childbirths today.  He writes, “Childbirth in humans is riskier, is longer, and certainly seems more painful than it is in any of our genetic cousins” (194).  These complications are due to large skulls and narrow birth canals.  But if we take into consideration that we may have possibly evolved from an animal that had a similar structure to us who lived near water and who most likely gave birth in water, then maybe it would be beneficial to us today to give birth in water.  I would this connection to be very interesting.  After looking up more about waterbirths, I found that several celebrities have chosen this for their own labors, including Gisele Bundchen!

1 comment:

  1. I found it pretty interesting too. Having first heard about Elaine Morgan from a TED talk (, I was familiar with her argument, but I was not familiar with the idea that water births facilitated human births. It’s frequently stated that humans have complications in births because of our rather large heads, but I have always likened this to bull dogs who can’t really give birth without help (of course English bull dogs can’t even reproduce without human aid, but I digress). I’ve never heard that humans had evolved to give birth in water, I had always believed it was just another fad and that it probably lacked merit.
    On another note, I find Elaine Morgan to be very inspiring given that she lacks any formal education in biology. It just goes to show how important it is to have ideas looked at from different perspectives rather than from one myopic view. I’m interested to know how her ideas are perceived in the scientific community though given that she lacks the credentials.