Is it a myth that modern whales have been found with hind legs sticking out of their sides and full formed tibias, fibias, and toe bones? I keep finding assertions, but no citations. For example, the wikipedia page has no citation for it.


  • $\begingroup$ This might be better suited on Skeptics. @Rory, what do you think? $\endgroup$ May 17, 2012 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ I posted this here because I was looking for a statement of fact. A simple "do we observe this" or not, whole vestigial limbs "legs" on modern whales that is. Whether the small bones in the pelvic area of modern / fossil whales are part of their skeletal anatomy or vestigial is another question. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 17, 2012 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ @KonradRudolph I'm never 100% on what's suited to skeptics, I've only really lurked and read some of the higher voted questions. Sure Mad Sci. will come across this later anyway xD $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    May 17, 2012 at 19:47

2 Answers 2


The link you give doesn't mention limbs sticking out of the body wall, but only vestigial hind limb elements. Many whales do retain pelves and femora, as this page at the Bergen Museum shows. Given the variation in limb development across vertebrates, it would not be surprising to find more distal elements (but I would be very surprised if they extended past the body wall).

  • $\begingroup$ So the stories I've heard of fishermen pulling whales out of the sea with legs sticking out their sides are myths/exaggerations? I just want to make sure I have my facts straight, that's all. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 17, 2012 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ probably... lol. Natural science was historically more of a circus business than institutional science as we know it. People would garner fame, attention and wealth by bringing in animal stories and artifacts that confirmed ancient myths or fantastic ideas. Examples are the market for narwhal horns which were sold as unicorn horns and mermaid exhibitions (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mermaid#Hoaxes). $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    May 17, 2012 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ Whales? I think not. However a dolphin has been seen with four flippers. (google.com/…) $\endgroup$
    – JayCkat
    May 1, 2017 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @JayCkat Dolphins basically are whales. Or rather the informal term "whales" randomly seems to exclude in its everyday use those dolphins who aren't already well-established whales (e.g. Orcas). So your evidence seems pretty rock solid in relation to OP's question! $\endgroup$
    – Araucaria
    Jun 16, 2022 at 17:08

Yes there are several published sources (with photos) of whales born with protruding vestigial legs.


Modern Right Whales have rudimentary legs--completely inside their bodies.

"approaching the inquiry with the most skeptical determination, one cannot help being convinced, as the dissection goes on, that these rudiments [in the Right Whale] really are femur and tibia. The synovial capsule representing the knee-joint was too evident to be overlooked. An acetabular cartilage, synovial cavity, and head of femur, together represent the hip-joint. Attached to this femur is an apparatus of constant and strong ligaments, permitting and restraining movements in certain directions; and muscles are present, some passing to the femur from distant parts, some proceeding immediately from the pelvic bone to the femur, by which movements of the thigh-bone are performed; and these ligaments and muscles present abundant instances of exact and interesting adaptation. "



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