Thursday, 1 July 2010

Thar she bites

A whale with enormous teeth has been found in the Pisco-Ica desert of Southern Peru. Named Leviathan melvillei, after the Moby Dick author, its estimated length was 14-17.5m, roughly the same as today's sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, though fully grown male sperm whales can reach over 20m. The find was made in November 2008 by Klaas Post, from Rotterdam Natural History Museum, who was with a mixed group of museum and university palaeontologists led by The NHM of Paris.

The site would have been a shallow lagoon between 12-13 million years ago and remains were also found of baleen whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and seals. Although the researchers think the animal may have resembled Physeter in size and appearance, the Leviathan had teeth in both upper and lower jaws - the sperm whale has lower teeth only. This suggests melvillei may have behaved more along the lines of an orca, preying on seals, large fish and even baleen whales. It's the teeth that are the most interesting aspect of the find. When first found, it was thought the teeth might be elephant tusks. On the 2008 expedition a near-complete skull was found, 3m long, as well as a jaw and some loose teeth. These are 12cm in diameter and up to 36cm long, dwarfing those of modern toothed whales.

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