Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/20/19: Cetaceans

Type D Killer Whale

Type D Killer Whale

BIG NEWS from the whale world! A group of cetacean experts identified and took a DNA sample from a mysterious sub-group of killer whales living in the Southern Hemisphere. The mysterious whales, called Type D, have been photographed in recent years, but not studied. They are slightly smaller than genotype species and have a tiny, em-dash like eyepatch. They appear to eat fish and congregate  off southern Chile and sub-antarctic islands like Crozets. If according to analysis they are a new species, it means there are still  surprises in the ocean left to discover. A new-to-science 12-foot marine mammal is one of them.

As a mammal group in general, though, cetaceans can be pretty boring. Oh, they’re exotic enough in terms of size and lifestyle, from pack-hunting killer whales to the huge sperm whales that dive after giant squid. But these singular superstars are few. Most species tend follow the biological rule of form follows function, and thus closely resemble one other. This is especially with the beaked whales, who often can be told apart only by their teeth. (Cetaceans fall into three families: Beaked, Baleen, and Toothed, each having a different way of feeding.)

Fortunately in fantasy we don’t have to be so limited. Here are some ideas for creating your own distinctive dolphins and whales.

Imaginary Cetaceans

Heldaan: A huge, mythical  whale with a striped gray-and-black body. It has a huge head, tapered tail, and an oversized, rounded dorsal fin that is said to be easily mistaken for a boat’s hull when seem from the side. Legend says it feeds on giant squid.

Amis River Dolphin: A medium-sized freshwater dolphin, light tan in color with a dark reddish-brown cape on its back said to resembled dried blood. It has a torpedo-shaped body and blunt teeth for crushing the giant water snails it feeds on. Unlike other dolphins it communicates with a coarse croak above the water and swims with slow, lazy movements of its flukes.

Waldyd’s Whale: A small baleen whale with a thick coat of gray fur and two protruding tusks. It lives in Arctic regions. Long whiskers protrude from its chin and lips, said to help the whale find food on the ocean floor. It also has three small chin horns.

Shügenthab: A giant carnivorous whale. It has a long, slim body and four sharp curving tusks. It has a bony ridge on its back and feeds on midsize fish it sucks into its mouth. This whale is known to attack large boats. It is entirely black with a light gray underbelly. Its eyes are all white with no pupil or iris.

Wynnihaw: A large member of the dolphin family, light gray in color with a black eye patch shaped like an ellipse. Thick-bodied, almost stumpy, it has two sharp fangs protruding from its lower jaw. It preys on seals. Its pectoral flippers have vestigial talons it uses for scratching and clawing to establish dominance in its hunting pod.

Darshon’s Dolphin: Large river and estuary dolphin that preys on salmon. It has a thickened, plump body and both front and rear flippers. It lives in small family groups and is very intelligent. Darshon’s dolphins are easily domesticated.

Rundilf: A mid-sized beaked whale with vestigial conical teeth and a two large hook-shaped dorsal fins, one at mid-back, the other just before its tail. Rundilf have nonfunctional eyes and rely on sonar.  Its belly is covered with thick, warty projections. They are rarely but notably seen. “Ugly as a Rundilf” is a common saying amongst sailors.

Ice Killer: A pack-hunting carnivorous dolphin, glossy black in color with a lighter area above its eye shaped like a question mark lying on its side. It also has a white chin patch and underside. It has two narwhal-like spiral tusks it uses to harass its prey. Ice killers live near pack ice in Arctic regions. They are more dorsally flattened than other dolphins to squeeze between crevasses in the ice.

Balandra: Giant ocean-going whale, white in color with small light gray freckles on its head and body. It has large brown eyes and feeds on krill. Unlike many whales, it has very good vision and can see in color. It has a streamlined body and triangular flukes and is a solitary creature. A ridge of horny scales on its back substitutes for a dorsal fin.

Landcrawler: Small tropical dolphin with nostrils at the tip of its snout and jointed, functional back flippers its uses to crawl up on beaches with to steal seabirds’ eggs.

Chequek: A large, aggressive hunter, the chequek is grayish-tan in color with a white belly. Females are more pinkish in color. It has a slim, streamlined body and a long, pointed snout.  It feeds exclusively on sharks.  Its dorsal fin is shaped like a triangle.

Gef: A small whale with a long, almost eel-like body. It is dark brown in color with lighter brown speckling. It feeds on midsize fish and it found only in coastal areas. It has lobed, heart-shaped flukes and many sharp, small teeth.

Geed: Medium-sized beaked whale with small, sharp teeth and large pectoral flippers it uses to “fly” through the water with. Males will box with their flippers in mating season.

1 comment

  1. Some SF books featuring cetaceans:

    The Godwhale, by T.J. Bass.
    In an ecologically devastated far-future earth, a colossal genetically modified whale provides life and hope.

    Startide Rising, by David Brin.
    Part of the Uplift War cycle. Humans have given dolphins human-like intelligence and explore a distant planet with them.

    Dreamfall, by Joan D. Vinge.
    Alien, sky whales cast off their thoughts as physical hunks of data on a distant world which are mined by a sinister corporation.

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