Thursday, July 1, 2010

Giant Whale-Eating Whale Discovered

In a coastal desert of Peru the massive skull and jaw of a 13-million-year-old sperm whale has been discovered.  The whale is the extinct distant cousin of the modern sperm whale although, this this whale is a very different beast according to Olivier Lambert of the Museum National d'Historie Naturelle in Paris, France.  Lambert led a team that located the massive fossil. 

The whale, Leviathan melvillei has a 3-meter (10 foot) skull with teeth in the top and bottom jaws that are each up to 36 centimeters (14 inches) in length.  Modern sperm whales only have teeth in the lower jaw and feed on giant squid.  It is believed the fossil sperm whales are to have eaten by actually taking huge bites out of their prey instead of swallowing it whole as modern sperm whales do.

A large hole in the skull that accommodated a large jaw muscle further strengthens this belief.  The fossil most likely fed on baleen whales and lived in the same waters as Charcharocles megalodon, the now-famous monster-sized ancestor of the Great White shark.

Researchers are focusing in on the teeth of the animal to learn more about its eating habits.  Horizontal wear lines suggest it swallowed prey like modern sperm whales.  Vertical wear lines suggest it bit into prey.

For more information and to see an artists rendition of what Leviathan melvillei might have looked like, you can read this article.

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