A new species of prehistoric whale discovered in the Egyptian desert

A paleontological mission led by Egyptian scientists has identified a new species of prehistoric whale from a 41 million year old fossil who inhabited the ancient sea of ​​present-day Egypt.

The species was called ‘Tutcetus rayanensis’ and according to scientists, the name was inspired by Egyptian history, referring to Tutankhamun, one of the most recognized pharaohs.

As the American University in Cairo (AUC) indicates in a press release, the specimen was discovered in Wadi al-Rayan, Valley of the Whales, a region of Fayoum, south of Cairo.

Fossil remains found include an incomplete skull with jaws; the hyoid apparatus, or the bones that sit at the base of the tongue; and the upper vertebra of a small subadult embedded in limestone.

Characteristics of the new whale species

Tutcetus rayanensis is a member of the extinct early whale family known as the basilosauridae, the first widespread group to become fully aquatic. The family of these whales had strong tails and fins, but they also had hind limbs similar to the legs.

Reconstruction of Tutcetus rayanensis, a member of the extinct family of primitive whales known as the basilosauridae. Credit: A. Morsi/Courtesy of Mansoura University Center for Vertebrate Palaeontology.

This new whale is the smallest basilosaurid known to date and one of the oldest records of this family in Africa. Despite its small size, it provided unprecedented insight into the life history, phylogeny, and paleobiogeography of early whales.

The tiny specimen had an estimated body weight of 187 kilograms and a length of 2.5 meters, comparable in size to a modern bottlenose dolphin.

The scientists mentioned in their study that they believe the short stature of Tutcetus is primitive retention or related to global warming that occurred around 42 million years ago, known as Lutetian thermal maximum.

Paleontologists Abdullah Gohar, Mohamed Sameh and Hesham Sallam (left to right) with the fossilized remains of T. rayanensis. Credit: Hesham Sallam/Mansoura University Center for Vertebrate Palaeontology.

Researchers believe the whale was still young, as the bones inside its skull and vertebrae had fused together and its permanent teeth were in an advanced stage of erupting. The whale had not reached adulthood.

You may be interested: Quadruped whales lived on land and in the sea 42 million years ago.

He discovery of Tutcetus rayanensis adds another layer of understanding to this region, revealing even more secrets about the whales’ incredible journey from land to sea.

This finding adds to the recent discovery of Colossus of Perucetusa whale fossil found in Peru and recorded as the heaviest animal in history found so far.

The research was published in the journal Communications biology.

References: CNN/Science Alert.

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