Aquatic Ape Theory Overview

Was man more aquatic in the past? Sir Alister Hardy sure thought so. Hardy was the first to propose this idea in 1960 in a New Scientist article, “Was Man More Aquatic in the Past?” His idea became known as the highly controversial Aquatic Ape Theory.

The Aquatic Ape Theory is the idea that during the transition from the last common ancestor we shared with apes to hominid (human), humans went through an aquatic stage. This stage is believed to have resulted in “aquatic ape-like” creatures.

The Aquatic Ape Theory is the scientific theory applied to Mermaids: The Body Found. The Aquatic Ape Theory postulates that coastal flooding millions of years ago turned some of our ancestors inland and a group of our ancestors deeper into the water out of necessity and for food.

The Aquatic Ape Theory makes it possible to believe that while we evolved from apes into terrestrial humans, our aquatic relatives turned into something strangely similar to the fabled mermaid. As evidence that humans once evolved into aquatic creatures, the Aquatic Ape Theory cites some of the striking differences between man and other primates and the many features we share with marine mammals, including the following:

  • Webbing between fingers (other primates don’t have this)
  • Subcutaneous fat (insulating from cold water)
  • Control over breath (humans can hold breath up to 20 minutes, longer than any other terrestrial animal)
  • Loss of body hair (hair creates drag in water)
  • Instinctive ability to swim (human babies are able to do this)
  • A highly developed brain, which depends on nutrients provided by seafood

Today, the leading advocate for this theory is Elaine Morgan. Morgan is a scientist who has written many books supporting Hardy’s idea.

Below is an Aquatic Ape Theory chart that Morgan put together, highlighting the similarities between humans and aquatic creatures, and the differences between humans and other primates:

Characteristics Humans Apes Savannah Aquatics
Habitual Bipedalism Yes
Loss of body hair Yes Yes Yes
Skin-bonded fat deposites Yes Yes
Ventro-ventral copulation Yes Yes Yes
Dimunition of apocrine glands Yes Yes
Hymen Yes Yes
Enlarged sebaceous glands Yes Yes
Psychic tears Yes Yes
Loss of vibrissae Yes Yes
Volitional breath control Yes Yes
Eccrine thermoregulation Yes Yes
Descended larynx Yes Yes

The Aquatic phase took place more than 5 million years ago. Since then, Homo has had five million years to re-adapt to terrestrial life. It is not surprising that the traces of aquatic adaptation have become partially obliterated and have gone unrecognized for so long. But the traces are still there as the table indicates.

The "yes" in column 3 refers to the bonobo; in column 4 to the rhinoceros and the elephant.

Tahli Kouperstein | tahli_kouperstein@discovery.com | 240.662.2221