Inermorostrum

An illustration of an extinct early whale. It resembles a porpoise, and is depicted with speculative walrus-like fleshy whiskery lips.

Inermorostrum xenops, a recently-named ancient cetacean!

Living about 30 million years ago in shallow coastal waters around the southeast USA, in what is now South Carolina, it was a member of one of the very earliest groups of toothed whales known as the xenorophids. Although only very distantly related to modern forms, xenorophids show evidence of being able to echolocate, suggesting the ability was probably ancestral to all toothed whales.

Estimated to have measured about 1m long (3′3″), Inermorostrum had a very short downturned snout and was completely toothless – specialized adaptations for suction feeding on small soft-bodied creatures on the seafloor.

Unusually for a toothed whale it also had proportionally large infraorbital foramina, openings in the bones of its snout for blood vessels and nerves to pass through. This suggests the presence of well-developed fleshy lips and possibly whiskers (as illustrated here), or maybe even an electroreceptive sense similar to some modern dolphins.

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