Egyptian scientists say prehistoric four-legged whale fossil discovered in 2008 is from previously unknown species
CAIRO – Egyptian scientists say the fossil of a prehistoric four-legged whale, unearthed more than a decade ago in the country’s western desert, is of a previously unknown species. The creature, an ancestor of the modern whale, is believed to have lived 43 million years ago.
The prehistoric whale, known as the semi-aquatic because it lived on both land and sea, exhibited the characteristics of an accomplished hunter, the team’s senior paleontologist, Hesham Sallam, told The Associated Press – features that set it apart from other whale fossils.
The fossil was first discovered by a team of Egyptian conservationists in 2008 in an area that was covered by seas in prehistoric times, but researchers only released 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.
“This is the first time in the history of Egyptian vertebrate paleontology that an Egyptian team is leading the documentation of a new genus and species of four-legged whale,” Sallam said.
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 on the discovery in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The Egyptian Western Desert region is already known for the so-called Valley of the Whales, or Wadi Al-Hitan, a tourist attraction and the only natural World Heritage site in the country that contains fossil remains of another type of prehistoric whale. .
The newly discovered creature belongs to the Protecetids family, 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 days when they retained four functional limbs,” said Jonathan Geisler, an expert in the evolutionary history of mammals at the New York Institute of Technology.
He said the location of the find in Egypt is also a clue as to when and how they spread around the world. Geisler was not involved in the discovery.
The oldest fossil whales are around 50 million years old and are believed to have originated in present-day Pakistan and India. However, scientists have not been able to come up with a conclusive answer as to when the whales moved from their point of origin to all of the world’s oceans.
“This new species alone cannot answer this question, but when viewed in the context of other fossil finds, it suggests that this dispersal occurred 43 million years ago,” Geisler said, adding that the new find could potentially serve as a link between Indo-Pakistan and parts of North America.
The fossil whale was named Phiomicetus Anubis, after the god of death in ancient Egypt.
“We chose the name Anubis because he had a strong, deadly bite,” said Sallam, professor of paleontology at Mansoura University in Egypt. “He could kill any creature he comes across.”
The new species is distinguished by its elongated skull and snout which suggests it was an efficient carnivore capable of grabbing and chewing its prey, he said. It was about 3 meters (9 feet long) and weighed around 600 kilograms, the researchers said. He is also believed to have had a keen hearing and smell.
The discovery follows a four-year collaboration between Egyptian paleontologists and American scientists, Sallam added.
His team has already made headlines around the world with its 2018 discovery of Mansourasaurus, a new species of long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs that lived in Mansoura province in the Nile Delta.