Folk stories are filled with tales of sea creatures that swallow humans and ships whole and for thousands of years, these stories made the sea an interesting and frightening place. If you’ve always been curious about ancient sea creatures, this list of 10 types of extinct whales will make you wish you were around back then.
The Basilosaurus is a humble giant that swam the oceans at least 41.3 to 33.9 million years ago. The Basilosaurus is famous for resembling a reptile because of its eel-like demeanor and jaw filled with sharp teeth. But while it looked different from the whales we know today, this extinct species of whale is important because it was the first prehistoric whale to be known to science.
The Dorudon roamed the seas approximately 41 million years ago and shared close physical traits with the Basilosaurus. It had a sharp incisor, canine, and premolar and molar teeth lining its elongated mouth from one end to another. The Dorudon’s features suggest it was fully marine, with reduced hind limbs and tail flukes that propelled it in water.
Our third extinct species of whale, the Zygophyseter, is a sperm whale that swam in earth’s waters in the period 11.2 to 7.6 million years ago. With a size of approximately 21-23 feet, it compares to the dwarf and pygmy sperm whales, but with a unique feature: a beak. Using its beak, this extinct whale utilized echolocation to track its prey, with the added advantage of being a fast swimmer. Archaeologists refer to it as the killer sperm whale, possibly rivaling the modern-day killer whale (Orcinus Orca) that’s deadly in catching large prey. With such hunting ability, many are left to wonder about the method of this whale’s extinction.
The Squalodontidae are an extinct family of large-toothed whales that were identified by their long narrow jaws. Known fossils of the Squalodontidae can be found all over the world, including in eastern North America, Argentina, and Europe. The extensive location of their fossils suggests they were widespread across the globe about 28 to 15 million years ago. Squalodontidae is considered an early ancestor of modern dolphins despite their differentiated teeth.
The Ambulocetus was a large amphibious cetacean from the Eocene epoch era, 50 million years ago. It’s one of the most studied mammals, due to its strong limbs that suggest it could walk on land. At 11 to 12 feet long, the Ambulocetus moved much like an otter, using its robust tail and large limbs for movement. But with a crocodile-like snout, there’s no doubt that it was vicious for smaller prey. With its aquatic and land-based mobility, this whale extinction is a favorite among the scientific community.
The Mammalodon, which is classified under the Mammalodontidae family is a prehistoric whale found around 25.7–23.9 million years old. The mammalodon is considered a baleen whale even though it had a selection of shaped teeth. The baleen refers to the feeding system where the whales swallow water and then simultaneously push it out to filter the food. It’s suggested that this extinct whale was a bottom filter feeder, using its snout and teeth as a filtering method as it fed on the seafloor.
The Rodhocetus was a small whale measuring about 6.6 to 9.8 feet long, and one of the several with land mammal characteristics. They’ve been used to indicate the transition from land to sea through their long feet and hands that were webbed to facilitate movement in the water. The Rodhocetus’ tail primarily acted as a rudder, with the limbs suggesting surface-level swimming for hunting.
Cetotherium has an interesting background, as its nickname is literally, the ‘whale beast.’ The Cetotherium is recorded as the first whales to have sharp teeth for hunting fish and mammals as food. In size, the Cetotherium was fairly small at a length 14 feet and fed near the ocean’s surface, which made it a target for larger predators like the megalodon and Livyatan.
As far as extinct whales go, the Janjucetus was a small specimen, 3 meters long, which roamed the waters around Victoria around 25 million years ago. As a predatory whale, the Janjucetus had some fearsome teeth that it relied on when hunting large fish. The Janjucetus’ skulls indicate powerful jaw muscles that made it a competitor to other hunters in the oceans. This whale extinction is an evolutionary link between ancient and modern whales.
The Livyatan has an interesting name which was initially inspired by ‘Leviathan,’ another biblical and mythological sea monster. The Livyatan lives up to its notoriety in size, about 44 to 57 feet. Its teeth measure 1.2 feet, making it the largest biting teeth in history, for extinct and current animals. The extinction of the giant Livyatan is said to have been triggered by the Miocene period cooling event that caused a decline in food populations.
Prehistoric whales had some interesting features but sadly, they’re now extinct. Still, for whale lovers, catching Harbor Breeze cruises in the Los Angeles area is the surest way to glimpse at the remaining sea giants. Our trips will help you visualize all the exciting facts about the animals we share this planet with. Check out our website for the best times to plan your cruise.