(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers excavating in Peru’s Ocucaje desert have unearthed the skull of a huge marine predator believed to be the ancestor of modern whales and dolphins.
The four-foot (1.2 meter) long skull studded with knife-like teeth is a new species of Basilosaurus, a genus of ferocious marine mammals that lived about 36 million years ago during the Eocene era, researchers from the National University of San Marcos (UNMSM) told Reuters. in Lima.
From muzzle to tail, this creature probably reached 39 feet (12 meters) in length, that is, the size of a city bus.
So far, researchers are calling this ancient beast the “predator Okukahe.” It will not receive an official name until the team publishes a scientific description of the species in a peer-reviewed journal.
“It was a sea monster,” Rodolfo Salas, founder and director of paleontology at the UNMSM Natural History Museum, told Reuters and other media at a March 17 press conference. “When it was looking for food, it certainly did a lot of harm.”
According to researchers, the Okukahe Desert was once the bottom of an ancient ocean. Basilosaurus and its ferocious relatives swam these seas as predators 41-34 million years ago, gliding through the water with bodies resembling huge snakes but with a large pair of flippers near their heads.
“Basilosaurus” means “royal lizard” and the creature’s serpentine skeleton was once mistaken for a marine reptile, according to the Smithsonian.
Scientists now know that Basilosaurus was a mammal – a fully aquatic cetacean, like the whales and dolphins that followed it millions of years later.
Whales’ previous ancestors were mammals that lived full-time on land and then gradually evolved to become semiaquatic over millions of years, Live Science previously reported.
Starting about 55 million years ago – 10 million years after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs – the ancestors of the whales finally moved into a completely aquatic environment, giving rise to the first cetaceans.
Today there are more than 90 species of cetaceans. The Okukahe Desert is teeming with fossils, some dating back more than 42 million years, researchers say.
Previous excavations have unearthed other early whale ancestors, dolphins, sharks and other inhabitants of the ancient depths.
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