Skull of a “sea monster”, a predecessor of the whale, discovered in Peru

LIMA ⁠— Paleontologists have unearthed the skull of a ferocious marine predator, the ancestral ancestor of modern day whales, who once lived in a prehistoric ocean that covered part of what is now Peru, scientists said Thursday.

The well-preserved skull, around 36 million years old, was unearthed intact last year from the dry rocks of the Ocucaje desert in southern Peru, with rows of long, sharp teeth, Paleontology chief Rodolfo Salas at the National University of Peru. San Marcos, told reporters at a press conference.

Scientists believe the ancient mammal was a basilosaurus, part of the aquatic cetacean family, whose contemporary descendants include whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Basilosaurus means “king lizard”, although the animal is not a reptile, although its long body was able to move like a giant snake.

The ancient top predator was probably about 39 feet long, about the height of a four-story building.

Paleontology expert Rodolfo Salas hailed the Basilosaurus species as “a sea monster”.
A 36-million-year-old Basilosaurus whale fossil is on display at the Natural History Museum after it was discovered in the Ocucaje desert in Lima, Peru, March 17, 2022.
Despite its long head shape and large teeth, Basilosaurus was not considered a reptile.
REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda

“It was a sea monster,” Salas said, adding that the skull, which has already been displayed at the university’s museum, may belong to a new species of basilosaurus.

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

Scientists believe the first cetaceans evolved from mammals that lived on land around 55 million years ago, around 10 million years after an asteroid struck right next to what is today Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, wiping out most life on Earth, including dinosaurs.

In this file photograph taken on August 12, 2018, a humpback whale leaps to the surface of the Pacific Ocean in Colombia's Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park.
The Basilosaurus fossil is believed to be an ancient predecessor of modern whales.
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

Salas explained that when the ancient basilosaurus died, its skull likely sank to the bottom of the seabed, where it was quickly buried and preserved.

“At that time, fossilization conditions were very good in Ocucaje,” he said.

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