Meet the walrus-whale, the extinct species of ancient whale, that looked a little like a cross between a dolphin and a walrus, and once roamed the oceans. Oh, for a time-traveling, whale-watching expedition!
Today, we hosted a Q&A with marine paleontologist Nick Pyenson who joined us to tell us more about the behind the scenes work of solving the mystery of just what caused the mass die-off in a five-million-year-old whale graveyard he and his team recently uncovered. "If you went on a whale watch in the late Miocene off the coast of Chile," Pyenson told us, "you would see some of the familiar (big rorquals, dolphins) and then a bit of the exotic, extinct species (walrus-whales, gnarly sperm whales). This site is really an ecological snapshot."
Wait, walrus-whales? Just what were walrus whales?
Walrus whales. A whole nother kettle of fish. They are completely extinct, and there are 2 species (in 1 genus, Odobenocetops) that have been described — both from Peru. They looked something like a dolphin from the neck down, but with an Admiral Ackbar-type face for a business end. It's basically a dolphin trying very hard to be a walrus. They were a bit different from walruses in that the walrus whales had asymmetrical tusks (wild!).
Here's something fun: go over to http://3d.si.edu and take a tour of the type specimen of this species! My co-authors and long-time collaborators, the laser cowboys, helped scan in this 3D model, as part of their Smithsonian X 3D initiative. http://3d.si.edu/explorer?model…
Or you can also just check it out here now! It's pretty incredible.