A potential contender for the largest animal ever, an ancient whale, discovered in Peruvian desert

by Ethan Kim
ancient whale fossils

A new challenger might dethrone the blue whale, the current titleholder for the largest creature ever known. Scientists have unearthed fossils of a prehistoric behemoth that could potentially surpass it in weight.

The research, published in the scientific journal Nature, introduced the species named Perucetus colossus, translated as “the colossal whale from Peru”. Every individual vertebra found weighs in excess of 220 pounds (100 kilograms), with rib bones measuring close to 5 feet (1.4 meters) in length.

Hans Thewissen, a paleontologist from the Northeast Ohio Medical University who was not involved in the research, expressed his excitement about the discovery of such a giant creature so distinct from our current knowledge of marine life.

The skeletal remains were first found over a decade ago by Mario Urbina of the Natural History Museum, University of San Marcos, Lima. An international research team spent years excavating these fossils from a steep, rocky incline in the Ica desert, a region of Peru formerly submerged underwater and renowned for its bountiful marine fossils. The result was the unearthing of 13 vertebrae from the whale’s backbone, four ribs, and a hip bone.

The colossal 39-million-year-old fossils are “unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” remarked study author Alberto Collareta, a paleontologist at the University of Pisa in Italy.

Post excavation, the research team employed 3D scanners to inspect the bone surfaces and drilled into them for an internal look. They used the immense but incomplete skeleton to estimate the whale’s size and weight by comparing it to modern marine mammals, explained study author Eli Amson, a paleontologist at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany.

The researchers estimated the weight of this ancient leviathan to be between 94 and 375 tons (85 and 340 metric tons), which is within the range of the largest known blue whales at about 200 tons (180 metric tons).

The newly discovered whale, at about 66 feet (20 meters) long, is not as lengthy as a blue whale, which can grow over 100 feet (30 meters). However, Collareta pointed out that it could potentially be the heaviest animal ever to exist, although probably not the longest.

The ancient whale’s weight is due, in part, to its bones, which are much denser and heavier than a blue whale’s, according to Amson.

These incredibly dense bones suggest that the whale likely inhabited shallow, coastal waters, similar to other creatures with heavy bones like manatees, which use their weight to stay close to the seabed.

However, without the skull, it’s challenging to determine the whale’s diet to sustain its massive size, Amson noted.

Researchers theorize that the P. colossus may have scavenged along the seafloor for food, or devoured copious amounts of krill and other minuscule marine creatures.

However, Thewissen didn’t rule out the possibility that this ancient behemoth had a completely unique feeding method that we cannot yet fathom.

The Big Big News Health and Science Department’s efforts are supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. All content is exclusively the responsibility of the AP.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about ancient whale fossils

What is the name of the ancient whale discovered?

The discovered ancient whale species has been named Perucetus colossus, which translates to “the colossal whale from Peru”.

Where were the fossils of this ancient whale found?

The fossils of the ancient whale were found in the Ica desert, a region in Peru, which was once underwater and is known for its rich marine fossils.

How much did the ancient whale weigh?

Based on the available fossil evidence, researchers estimate that the ancient whale could have weighed anywhere between 94 and 375 tons (85 and 340 metric tons).

How long was the Perucetus colossus?

Researchers estimate that Perucetus colossus was about 66 feet (20 meters) long, which is shorter than some blue whales, which can grow over 100 feet (30 meters).

What makes this ancient whale unique?

The unique aspect of this ancient whale is its dense and heavy bones, which are unlike the bones of the modern blue whale. This suggests that the whale may have dwelled in shallow, coastal waters. It is also potentially the heaviest animal ever known.

What was the diet of the Perucetus colossus?

Without the skull, it’s challenging to definitively determine the diet of Perucetus colossus. However, researchers speculate that it could have scavenged along the seafloor or consumed large amounts of krill and other tiny marine creatures.

More about ancient whale fossils

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FossilFanatic August 5, 2023 - 12:42 pm

Wow, 220 pounds per vertebrae? This whale must’ve been a real colossus indeed. Can’t wait for more research on this one.

SammyP August 5, 2023 - 9:08 pm

This is just mind-blowing. can you imagine something bigger than a blue whale? nature is full of surprises isn’t it.

HistoryHunter August 5, 2023 - 10:22 pm

I’ve always found it fascinating how much information we can gather from fossils, imagine being able to determine the whales weight and size from a few bones. science is amazing!!

OceanicOdyssey August 5, 2023 - 10:41 pm

but what if there are still creatures this big in the deep sea that we haven’t found yet? kinda scary if you think about it…

DesertDreamer August 6, 2023 - 3:20 am

and to think all this was found in a desert! Makes me wonder what else could be hiding beneath our feet…

WhaleLover101 August 6, 2023 - 6:05 am

Always loved these marine giants, its like stepping back in time hearing about these discoveries! science rocks!!!


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