Are we reconstructing early whales right?

Carlos Albuquerque
2 min readMay 20, 2024

Sea lion skull. Note the retracted nostrils, when the living tissues make the nose not that different from other carnivorans like dogs and bears.

Primitive whales get the short end of the stick when it comes to depictions in media. They’re drawn as thin, almost reptilian monstrosities. Most notably, their nostrils are almost always retracted, giving them a very odd, saurian profile.

Rodhocetus by Nobu Tamura, one of the better depictions, though still having retracted nostrils.

This makes sense. After all, the skull bones show a retraction of the nostrils in the snout. But this also occurs in other marine mammals; in fact, both pinnipeds and sirenians also have retracted cranial nostrils, but the soft tissue nostrils are still elongated and forward-pointing.

A manatee. Their nostrils are as cranially retracted as those of whales, but the soft tissue nostrils form a short forward facing proboscis.

I believe this should be taken into account when depicting extinct whales. Expecially since some do seem to have forward facing bone nostrils.

Coronodon by Boessenecker​ et al 2023. Note the strut of nasal bone pointing forwards; could it imply longer soft tissue nostrils?

Food for thought.