The Cryptid Zoo: Zeuglodons

Zeuglodons are a group of primitive whales that are thought to have died out 30 million years ago. These primitive beasts looked nothing like today's whales. They were long and serpentine, and they may have been able to crawl onto land, perhaps to have their young on shore or to travel overland to spawn in secluded lakes. Zeuglodons are suggested often as the explanation for sea serpent and lake monster reports.
Some zeuglodons looked similar to the creatures described in today's sightings of sea serpents and lake monsters. Picture copyright 2006 by Jamie Hall.

The zeuglodon has recently been re-named the basilosaurus in accordance with scientific naming conventions, whereby the first name given to a species, even if it is erroneous, is the official one. "Basilosaurus" is a name suitable for reptiles and dinosaurs, and was mistakenly given to the zeuglodon before it was realized to be a mammal. However, the new name has been slow to catch on in the cryptozoology community, and these creatures seem to be far more frequently labeled zeuglodons by cryptozoologists.

If these primitive whales are still alive, they would certainly fit with the main characteristics found in standard sightings of lake monsters and sea serpents. Many lake monsters and sea serpents present an elongated, serpentine shape, like zeuglodons. In addition, many sea serpents and lake monsters have been reported from northern waters that are thought to be too cold for reptiles such as plesiosaurs or giant snakes, but these same waters would be fine for an aquatic mammal. Sea serpents and lake monsters are also frequently described as having bits of hair (especially a mane) and as swimming with vertical spinal flexure, both characteristics of mammals, not reptiles.

Even though the latest zeuglodon fossils are around 30 million years old, this is not a terribly formidable barrier to the idea that they might have lived into modern times. Whale fossils of any kind are extremely rare, and the fossil record of sea creatures in general is quite spotty. A 30 million year gap is not a big deal. Some environments are not at all condusive to creating fossils, and the sea floor is one of the worst.

Zeuglodons probably evolved from mesonychids, a family of hoofed predators, or from very close relatives of the mesonychids. Some of the earliest whales even had rows of tiny hooves along the edges of each flipper (early hoofed animals had larger numbers of hoofed toes than today's modern ungulates such as cows and horses).

You can find out more about Zeuglodons from the following sources:

Clark, Jerome and Coleman, Loren. Cryptozoology A-Z. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Pages 133, 192, 257

Coleman, Loren. Mysterious America: The Revised Edition. New York: Paraview Press, 2001. Page 89

Newton, Michael. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. Pages 96, 164, 250, 282, 296, 297, 359, 416, 491, 507
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Steiger, Brad. Out of the Dark: The Complete Guide to Beings from Beyond. New York: Kensington Books, 2001. Pages 98-99

Weidensaul, Scott. The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Pages 157, 163

Wikipedia, The. Basilosaurus

Zimmer, Carl. At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but then Went Back to Sea. New York: Touchstone Books, 1999.

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The text on this page is copyright 2005 by Jamie Hall. Please use proper citation if you are using this website for research.