Extinct Whales

The earliest whales were believed to be amphibious and could move about on land, similar to animals like modern seals. These cetaceans were active during the Eocene (approximately 56 to 34 million years ago) and were ancestors not only to modern whales but also to other even-toed ungulates like the semi-aquatic hippopotamus.

Why Did These Prehistoric Whales Become Extinct

Evolution led to whales becoming fully aquatic, with their semi-aquatic traits getting phased out around the Oligocene (around 34 to 23 million years ago). This made sense as while early whales were capable of amphibious movements, they were often clumsy on land and not particularly fast underwater. These limitations prevented them from effectively competing with fully aquatic species for resources like food. Changing climates also restricted their movements, leading to the habitats of these ancient whales shrinking.

As a result, whales would adapt over time to eventually resemble the cetaceans of the present day.

Extinct Whales

List of Whales That Went Extinct

NameCharacteristicsWhere Did It Live
Aegyptocetus tarfa1. Semi-aquatic
2. Could hear underwater
Ambulocetus natans1. Semi-aquatic
2. Displayed crocodilian behavior
Kuldana Formation, Pakistan
Artiocetus clavis1. Small in size
2. Capable of moving like a seal on land
Balochistan Province, Pakistan
Babiacetus indicus1. Possessed teeth 
2. Primarily fed on large fish or aquatic vertebrates
Kutch District, Gujarat, India
Basilosaurus cetoides1. Apex predator that hunted fish, sharks, and other cetaceansEgypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Tunisia, Western Sahara, and the southeastern United States 
Cetotherium rathkii1. Potential ancestor of the Pygmy Right WhaleTaman Peninsula, Russia
Coronodon havensteini1. Possessed teeth 
2. About 16 feet long and weighed over a ton
South Carolina, USA
Dorudon atrox1. Possessed teeth
2. Lacked organs for echolocation
Egypt, Pakistan, New Zealand, United States
Fucaia buelli1. Primitive baleen whale
2. Capable of both raptorial and suction feeding
Canada and the United States
Gandakasia potens1. Freshwater whalePakistan
Gaviacetus razai1. Unique rostrum
2. Pursuit predator
Punjab, Pakistan
Himalayacetus subathuensis1. One of the oldest whales ever Pakistan
Janjucetus hunderi1. Apex predator
2. Behavior similar to modern seals
3. Teeth like a crabeater seal
4. Feeding habits like a leopard seal
South-east Australia
Kekenodon onamata1. Could reach up to 30 feet in lengthNew Zealand
Kharodacetus sahnii 1. Larger teeth than GaviacetusKutch, India
Kutchicetus minimus1. Small in size
2. Movements similar to modern-day otters
India and Pakistan
Livyatan melvillei1. Prehistoric sperm whale
2. Apex predator
3. Teeth that were each over 1 foot long
Argentina, Australia, Chile, Peru, South Africa, and the US (California)
Llanocetus denticrenatus1. Large in size
2. Suction feeder like modern-beaked whales
Maiacetus inuus1. Amphibious nature indicated by webbed feetHabib Rahi Formation, Pakistan
Mammalodon colliveri1. Closely related to Janjucetus
2. Rounded snout 
3. Most likely filter fed from the bottom of the ocean floor
Australia and New Zealand
Peregocetus pacificus1. Semi-aquatic
2. Four-legged 
Perucetus colossus1. Probably the largest prehistoric whale, reaching up to 66 feet in length and up to 340 tons in weightPeru
Protocetus atavus1. Streamlined body
2. Capable of hearing underwater
3. Nostrils placed further back on their head like modern whales
Cairo, Egypt
Rodhocetus balochistanensis1. Small whale
2. Possessed five digits on its forelimbs and four digits on its hindlimbs
Tutcetus rayanensis1. Smallest basilosaurid at approximately 8 feet in lengthEgypt
Killer Sperm Whale (Zygophyseter varolai)1. Prehistoric sperm whale
2. Feeding habits like modern orcas

While this list is mainly about prehistoric and early whales, it is worth mentioning that in the 18th century, the gray whale became extinct in the Atlantic Ocean as a result of excessive whaling. It is still found in the Pacific.