The fossil of a prehistoric four-legged whale, unearthed a decade ago in Egypt’s western desert, belongs to an unknown species, Egyptian scientists said Tuesday. The creature, an ancestor of modern whales, is believed to have lived 43 million years ago.
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The prehistoric whale, considered semi-aquatic because it lived both on land and in the sea, had the features of a competent hunter, the team’s leading paleontologist, Hesham Sallam, told The Associated Press, which sets it apart from other whale fossils.
The remains were found in 2008 by a team of Egyptian environmentalists, in an area that was covered with water in prehistoric times. However, the researchers did not publish their findings until last month to confirm that it was a new species.
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Sallam noted that the team didn’t begin examining the fossil until 2017 because they wanted to bring together the best team of Egyptian paleontologists for the study.
“This is the first time in the history of Egyptian vertebrate paleontology that we have an Egyptian team leading the documentation of a new genus and species of four-legged whale.”said Sallam.
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The fossil sheds some light on the evolution of whales, which went from being herbivorous land mammals to carnivorous species that today live exclusively in water. The transition was made about 10 million years ago, according to an article published on the discovery in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The Valley of the Whales
The western desert region of Egypt is already known for the so-called Valley of the Whales, or Wadi Al-Hitan, a tourist attraction and home to fossil remains of other types of prehistoric whales.
The new creature belongs to the family of Protocetaceans, extinct semi-aquatic whales that lived between 59 and 34 million years ago, Sallam explained. The animal walked on land, but it also hunted in water.
“It is another new species of primitive whales, from the time when they conserved four functional members”, explained Jonathan Geisler, an expert on the evolutionary history of mammals at the New York Institute of Technology. Geisler was not involved in the find.
The whale was named Phiomicetus Anubis, after the god of death in ancient Egypt.
“We chose the name Anubis because it had a strong and deadly bite”said Sallam, professor of paleontology at Manosura University in Egypt.
The new species is notable for its long skull, which suggests it was an efficient carnivore capable of grasping and chewing its prey, he noted. It was about three meters (nine feet) long and weighed about 600 kilograms, according to the researchers.
The discovery came after four years of collaboration between Egyptian and American paleontologists, Sallam added.
His team already had an international impact in 2018 with its discovery of the mansourasaurus, a new species of long-necked herbivorous dinosaur that lived in what is now the province of Manosura, in the Nile Delta.
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