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A peculiar whale skeleton is included fortuitously in the sci-fi movie Hunter Prey

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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It’s funny how things work out. We looked recently at a ‘mystery’ whale carcass from Baja California. As explained here, it turned out to be a Risso’s dolphin Grampus griseus. I recently watched a 2009 sci-fi movie called Hunter Prey. Should you wish to know more about it, the wikipedia article is pretty good. Anyway, at a few points in the movie, we see the skeleton of what is evidently a living species of cetacean (and not, as I suppose we’re meant to think, that of some weird alien beast). In best hi-tech fashion, I took a few photos of my TV screen, and the images you see here are the result.

There are quite a few places in the world – mostly coastal deserts – where you can go and see sun-bleached cetacean skeletons, lying in the same places where they were deposited in decades or even centuries past. Hunter Prey includes a reference to the ‘Baja dunes’ in the end credits, and wikipedia says that it was filmed in Mexico. Anyway – your task: identify the species we see in the movie. I include a cropped image of its skull.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Vidal 6:48 am 03/2/2012

    It seems a beaked whale skull, probably a Baird´s beaked whale, Berardius bairdii, Steneger, 1883.

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  2. 2. Yodelling Cyclist 7:49 am 03/2/2012

    Clearly a desert adapted ropen.

    (I actually agree with Vidal).

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  3. 3. Andreas Johansson 8:16 am 03/2/2012

    Aquatic gorgonopsian if I ever saw one!

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  4. 4. Heteromeles 9:54 am 03/2/2012

    I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s from a short-nosed common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), filmed with a bit of forced perspective.

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  5. 5. Neil K. 10:15 am 03/2/2012

    I like beaked whale too, and Berardius seems like a good guess but I’ll throw out Indopacetus pacificus to keep things interesting.

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  6. 6. Heteromeles 11:21 am 03/2/2012

    Yes, there was a small beaching of Baird’s beaked whale on Isla San Jose in the southern Gulf of California, in 2006. So it’s possible, assuming that the skeleton is 2-3 years old.

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  7. 7. Neil K. 11:47 am 03/2/2012

    Nah, after stumbling on a post about “Moore’s Beach Monster” on some obscure zoology blog I’m pretty sure Vidal has the right of it. That mesethmoid is pretty distinctive.

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  8. 8. Boesse 12:40 pm 03/2/2012

    Some sort of Ziphiid skull – and yes, it does look like a rather good match for Berardius, as opposed to Mesoplodon or Ziphius.

    There’s also two more great cetacean skull moments in recent movies. In a scene in the movie “Predators”, when the humans come upon the predator encampment and see all sorts of gory skeletal totems adorning the camp – the camera pans back, and you can clearly see a killer whale skull in the foreground.

    The second one is in the the new Sherlock Holmes movie (the first one, not the one that came out a month ago) – when Holmes and Watson are looking at the workshop of the red headed dwarf, there is what appears to be a harbor porpoise skull with quite a bit of dessicated soft tissue still on it.

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  9. 9. Cameron McCormick 1:39 pm 03/2/2012

    Upside-down Russian archaeocete :P

    Does anybody know if there are any good pictures out there of a mounted Berardius skeleton? I’m wondering how Basilosaurus-like it may look.

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  10. 10. Halbred 1:42 pm 03/2/2012

    I have no guess as to the identity of the dolphin skull, BUT I do have another thing to say about “Predators.”

    Predators must bring in a lot more Earth game than just people and whales–I noticed at least one bear skull, what appeared to be a warthog skull. I can see the warthog being somewhat “alien” to people who aren’t familiar with it, but a bear? It’s a BEAR. And where was the token fanservice Xenomorph skull?

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  11. 11. suferable 3:06 am 03/3/2012

    Busted up orca skull? That’s the best I can do.

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  12. 12. Mike from Ottawa 11:41 pm 03/3/2012

    “Aquatic gorgonopsian if I ever saw one!”

    Well, that statement is certainly true!

    Mike from Ottawa

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  13. 13. naishd 5:22 pm 03/4/2012

    I wonder if the many new readers here (ha ha, I kid, I kid) are understanding all the ropen- and gorgonopsian-based humour? I hope so. It is a long and honourable tradition, and long may it continue. As for whale skulls… we’re doing well so far. Some of you have nailed it, I reckon. More soon.


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  14. 14. suferable 9:12 pm 03/4/2012

    Did a little online research, seems the Barid’s beaked whale people got it right.

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  15. 15. Gwen! 2:40 pm 03/5/2012

    Why hasn’t anybody acknowledged the fact that this is clearly an abyssal neoplesiosaur of the variety found off the coast of Monterey?

    Hunter Prey definitely isn’t the first to do something of the sort… I seem to recall a certain Star Trek: Enterprise episode that tried to pass off a giraffe skull as coming from a race of “extinct flying aliens”.

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  16. 16. David Marjanović 3:04 pm 03/5/2012

    Where is the mesethmoid? Does it form the nasal septum?

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  17. 17. Dartian 5:58 am 03/6/2012

    There’s also two more great cetacean skull moments in recent movies.

    If we’re counting whale skeleton appearances in Hollywood movies, let’s not forget Alien vs. Predator. Of course, in that case it wasn’t entirely gratuitous, as some of the action took place in an abandoned whaling station.

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