36 million year old whale fossil found in Peru


A group of paleontologists from the National University of San Marcos announced that they were able to unearth the skull of a predatory sea monster that developed in Peruvian waters 36 million years ago. A fossil of this ancient whale on display at the Natural History Museum in Lima could shed more light on cetacean evolution.

Basilosaurus is an extinct genus of large carnivorous cetaceans that lived during the late Eocene, between 41.3 and 33.9 million years ago. A 1.35 m long animal skull that probably belongs to a new species temporarily named Ocucaje basilosaurus was discovered in late 2021 in the Ocucaje Desert, about 350 km south of Lima. This area dried up about four million years ago due to the growth of the Andes, which raised the seabed.

The primitive whale, which lived about 36 million years ago, reached seventeen meters in length. It also had a powerful jaw with large molars and sharp fangs. At one time, this animal was at the top of the food chain and probably fed on tuna, sharks and sardines.

The skull, which will be on display at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Lima this Friday, was buried under a six-meter layer of rock. Naturally, “the hardness of the rock and the fragility of such an ancient fossil added to the difficulty of extracting the skull,” said Mario Urbina, leader of a team of paleontologists from the National University of Mayor de San Marcos who took part in the excavation. He also said excavations would continue to try to find the rest of the animal’s body.

“This is a very important find because nowhere else in the world has such a specimen been found,” he said. “It’s also an unusual find because of its good preservation.”

Basilosaurus.

Three years ago, analysis of another of these primitive whales, which evolved in the sea 35 million years ago in what is now Egypt, also led us to the conclusion that these mammals were formidable predators.

Numerous fossil remains of smaller animals were found near the cetacean, but earlier researchers considered this animal to be carrion. However, analysis of the contents of the stomach of one of these specimens suggests otherwise. Among these specimens were several juvenile whales, some of which still had bite marks on their skulls, a sign of predation.

In conclusion, the researchers compared this huge cetacean to the modern killer whale, another predator with sharp teeth that does not hesitate to prey on young.

Planet Today

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