36-million-year-old “sea monster” fossil found in Peruvian desert

The Ocucaje desert and its dunes have produced a large number of amazing remains of primitive marine mammals.

The Ocucaje desert and its dunes have produced a large number of amazing remains of primitive marine mammals.

Photo: GERALDO CASE / AFP / Getty Images

Paleontologists unveiled on Thursday the fossilized remains of an ancient whale that inhabited the seas 36 million years ago, found last year in a Peruvian desert.

The scientists they called the creature a “sea monster” that “surely did a lot of damage”.

“We present the new Peruvian basilosaurus, it is the complete skull of an archaic whale that lived 36 million years ago“said paleontologist Mario Urbina, head of the team that discovered the skeleton.

Urbina said that the basilosaurus was found at the end of 2021 in the Ocucaje desert in the department of Ica, about 215 miles south of Lima.

The desolate landscape was a shallow sea millions of years ago, and its dunes have produced a wealth of amazing remains of early marine mammals.

Rodolfo Salas, head of paleontology at Peru’s National University of San Marcos, called the whale a “sea monster.”

“The most incredible thing is that the skull is in a very good state of preservation, it has complete teeth; it was a first order predator, at the top of that time that fed on penguin fish; a sea monster just as they imagine it and we think it is a new species,” Salas said.

The “Ocucaje Predator,” as the researchers called it, was about 55 feet long and used its huge, powerful teeth to feed on tuna, sharks, and schools of sardines.

“When he was looking for his food, he surely did a lot of damage,” Salas said.

“This finding is very important because no other similar specimens have been discovered in the world,” said Urbina.

Team member Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi explained that basilosaurus differs from other known ancient whale species by its size and the development of its teeth, both of which indicate the animal was likely at the top of the food chain.

“This is an extraordinary find due to its great state of conservation,” he said. “This animal was one of the largest predators of its time.”

“At that time the Peruvian sea was warm,” added Salas-Gismondi, who heads the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum in Lima. “Thanks to this type of fossil we can reconstruct the history of the Peruvian sea.”

The first cetaceans, such as basilosaurus, evolved from land animals about 55 million years ago.

By the end of the Eocene period (56 to 34 million years ago), cetaceans had fully adapted to marine life.

Whales had not yet evolved, and almost all cetaceans were marine macropredators, according to the research team.

The Ocucaje desert is rich in fossils, the researchers said, providing scientists with 42 million-year-old evolutionary evidence.

Other fossils found there include four-legged dwarf whales, dolphins, sharks, and other species from the Miocene period, between 23 and 5 million years ago. The announcement in Peru comes about two months after paleontologists said they had discovered a 180-million-year-old giant “sea dragon” fossil in the UK.

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