Scientist Bhart-Anjan Bhullar shares a crocodilian fossil at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut. The museum hosts the third-largest paleontology collection in the U.S. (Image courtesy of Twin Cities PBS)

Created in a first-ever partnership between PBS and Smithsonian Channel, When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time is a two-hour film tracing the epic origin stories of some of the world’s most spectacular creatures. The program takes viewers on a global adventure as top scientists investigate clues from the fossil record and use 21st-century technology to unlock the evolutionary secrets of crocodiles, birds, whales, and elephants. Using innovative storytelling techniques, 3D graphics, and CGI to bring ancient beasts to life, When Whales Walked offers surprising insights into the evolution of these magnificent animals, exploding myths about the path these species took over millions of years.

The Connecticut Connection

When Whales Walked also features a Connecticut connection: Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, assistant professor and assistant curator in Yale University’s Geology and Geophysics Department, will be featured in the film, as will Jacques Gauthier, professor, curator, vertebrate paleontologist, and comparative morphologist at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Watch for Bhullar in the “Crocodiles” section of the film, and for Gauthier in the “Birds” section.

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Dorudon was an early whale ancestor that both baleen and toothed whales evolved from, as seen on When Whales Walked: Journeys In Deep Time. (Image courtesy of Twin Cities PBS)

Evoking awe and wonder, When Whales Walked contains startling revelations about the ancient ancestors of animals still alive today. One early croc relative was built like a greyhound, ancient whales walked on four legs, and the earliest ancestor of the elephant was the size of a rabbit. Birds arose from feathered dinosaurs — in fact, they are dinosaurs — and went on to colonize the natural world as well as the urban spaces created by humans. But the end of the story has yet to be written, and the film sounds an alarm about the dangers each of these survivors faces. Exploring the mystery and majesty of these amazing animals, When Whales Walked reminds us that their future lies in the hands of humans.