As a paleo-artist, one of my biggest pet peeves are prehistoric whales reconstructed not as whales but as sinewy, snarling, shrink-wrapped marine reptiles. It’s just not a plausible reconstruction, even if it’s highly speculative, and it paints an incorrect image in the public eye. Granted, this is a struggle I’ve exlpored in all forms of paleo-art and reconstructive illustration. But the whales have really been getting to me recently.
Here are some recontructions of Basilosaurus, if you don’t know what I mean (one by Karen Carr, the other by an artist I could not determine):
These snakey, reptilious reconstructions may stem from the fact that Basilosaurus, one of the first early cetaceans to be found, was believed to be a reptile when first discovered (hence the name). Maybe we simply haven’t fully shaken that mindset.
But still! Even the damn Smithsonian, which has such a wonderful collection of ancient cetaceans, is at fault in this:
Don’t even get me started on their recently-closed dinosaur hall. Thank the lord they’re finally renovating that dated piece of crap.
I have struggled to find a way to reconstruct these animals so that they are just a little bit more believeable. Up top I’ve done a really really quick sketch of Dorudon. I tried to not only make its body more streamlined and whale-like (because Dorudon has a lovely, almost but not quite modern-looking skeleton), but I also tried to give it markings similar to what we find on modern cetaceans for camouflage. Because hey, who’s to say they didn’t have ‘em? I tried to make them familiar but not directly copied from any modern species.
Aaaaand end rant.
It will never cease to amaze me how some artists reconstruct extinct whales as mosasaur-like monsters instead of… whales. There is a hideous fucking Dorudon on the cover of Uhen (2004), a 222 page treatise that clearly states that in life, the cetacean was certainly blubbery and streamlined.