Land whale fossil found in Egypt

The prehistoric whale, known as semiaquatic because it lived on land and sea, showed signs of being an accomplished hunter 43 million years ago.

Egyptian scientists say the fossil of a prehistoric four-legged whale, unearthed more than 10 years ago in the country’s western desert, is that of a previously unknown species. The creature, an ancestor of today’s whale, is believed to have lived 43 million years ago.

The prehistoric whale, known as semi-aquatic because it lived on land and sea, sported characteristics of an accomplished hunter, which made it stand out from other whale fossils, the team’s lead paleontologist, Hesham Sallam, told the Associated news agency on Tuesday. Press.

The fossil was first found by Egyptian environmentalists in 2008 in an area covered by seas in prehistoric times, but the researchers only published their findings confirming a new species last month.

Sallam said his team didn’t start examining the fossil until 2017 because he wanted to bring together the best and most talented Egyptian paleontologists for the study.

The fossil whale has been named Phiomicetus Anubis, after the “god of death” in ancient Egypt.

“We chose the name Anubis because it had a strong and deadly bite,” said Sallam, a professor of paleontology at the University of Mansoura in Egypt. “He could kill any creature he came across.”

The whale belongs to the family of proteacetids, extinct semi-aquatic whales that lived 59 to 34 million years ago, Sallam said. He would have walked on land but also hunted in water.

“This is another new species of primitive whales from the time that they had four functional limbs,” said Jonathan Geisler, an expert on the evolutionary history of mammals at the New York Institute of Technology.

He said the location of the discovery in Egypt is also a clue to when and how they spread around the world. Geisler was not involved in the investigation.

Egyptian researcher Abdullah Gohar shows the fossil of a 43-million-year-old whale known as Phiomicetus Anubis [Nariman el-Mofty/AP]

The fossil sheds light on the evolution of whales from herbivorous land mammals to carnivorous species that today live exclusively in water. The transition took place over approximately 10 million years, according to an article published about the discovery in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Egypt’s western desert region is already known for the so-called Valley of the Whales, or Wadi al-Hitan, a tourist attraction and the country’s only natural World Heritage site that contains fossil remains of other prehistoric whales.

The oldest fossil whales are about 50 million years old and are believed to have originated in present-day Pakistan and India. However, scientists have not been able to arrive at a conclusive answer as to when the whales moved from their point of origin to all the world’s oceans.

“This new species alone cannot answer that question, but when viewed in the context of other fossil discoveries, it suggests that this dispersal occurred 43 million years ago,” Geisler said, adding that the new find could possibly serve as a link between Indo-Pakistan and regions of North America.

The fossil of the four-legged whale was unearthed at Fayum in the western desert of Egypt [Nariman el-Mofty/AP]

The new species is notable for its elongated skull and snout suggesting that it was an efficient carnivore capable of grasping and chewing its prey. It was about 3 meters (9 feet) long and weighed about 600 kg (1,300 pounds), according to the researchers. It is also believed that he had keen hearing and a sense of smell.

The discovery followed a four-year collaboration between Egyptian paleontologists and US-based scientists, Sallam said.

His team has made headlines around the world with their 2018 discovery of Mansourasaurus, a new species of long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs that lived in the Mansoura province in the Nile Delta.

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