Whale-eating whale found in Peru

July 1st, 2010 - 11:21 am ICT by IANS  

London, July 1 (IANS) The fossil of a 13-million-year-old giant sperm whale, which fed on other whales, has been found in a a coastal desert in Peru.
While modern-day sperm whales have teeth only in their lower jaws, and suck down squid like large spaghetti noodles rather than catch the prey with their teeth, the “much-toothier” fossil sperm whales, however, may have eaten more like a outsized-orca, or killer whale, chomping great big bites out of its prey, Discovery News reported.

The extinct cousin of the sperm whale is the first fossil to rival modern sperm whales in size - although this may be a very different beast, whale evolution experts said.

“We could see it from very far,” paleontologist Olivier Lambert of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, who led the team which found the fossil, was quoted as saying.

The giant three-meter skull was found with teeth in its top and bottom jaws up to 36 cm long. The whale has been dubbed Leviathan melvillei, in honour of Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick”.

“These are very unusual attributes,” said evolution expert Ewan Fordyce of the University of Otago, New Zealand. “It’s remarkably big. That is unexpected.”

Another sign that this extinct animal had a killer bite is the presence of a large hole in the skull which accommodated a large jaw muscle. “This was a hunting predator that took chunks out of prey,” Fordyce said.

To learn more about its eating habits, Fordyce said they would look at the microscopic wear patterns on the teeth. If the wear lines are horizontal, it probably sucked in prey like today’s whales. But if the wear lines are vertical, it would suggest a biter, like the orca.

There have also been discoveries of isolated large sperm whale teeth fossils before. Those made it clear there was a bigger animal out there waiting to be found. And now they have found it, said Lambert.

“I think it’s a great advance,” said Fordyce.

The discovery is reported in the July 1 issue of the journal Nature.

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