Scientists in Peru have announced a new contender for the heaviest animal in Earth’s history.
While today’s blue whale has long held the title, researchers said on Wednesday that fossils of a creature unearthed in Peru called Perucetus colossus could tip the scales.
The early whale, which lived about 38-40 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, was built somewhat like a manatee and was likely about 20 metres (66ft) long.
It weighed up to 340 metric tonnes, a mass that would exceed any other known animal including today’s blue whale and the largest dinosaurs.
Its name in scientific terms is “colossal Peruvian Whale”.
“The main feature of this animal is certainly the extreme weight, which suggests that evolution can generate organisms that have characteristics that go beyond our imagination,” said palaeontologist Giovanni Bianucci of the University of Pisa in Italy, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.
The minimum mass estimate for Perucetus was 85 tonnes, with an average estimate of 180 tonnes. The biggest-known blue whale weighed around 190 tonnes, though it was longer than Perucetus at 33. 5 metres (110ft).
Argentinosaurus, a long-necked, four-legged herbivore that lived about 95 million years ago in Argentina and was ranked in a study published in May as the most massive dinosaur, was estimated at about 76 tonnes.
Mario Urbina, from the Natural History Museum of University of San Marcos in Lima, discovered the partial skeleton of Perucetus more than 10 years ago.
A team of international experts spent many years excavating the fossils from the steep, rocky side slopes in Ica, Peru, an area that used to be underwater. It is rich in marine fossils. The results: 13 vertebrae from the whale’s backbone, four ribs and a hip bone.
The unusually large bones were dense and compact.
Those super-dense bones suggest that the whale may have spent its time in shallow, coastal waters, the authors said. The heavy bones of other coastal creatures, such as manatees or dugongs (also known as sirenians), help these animals stay near the ocean floor.
No cranial or tooth remains were found, making interpretation of its diet and lifestyle tougher.
The scientists suspect Perucetus was a sirenian – a predator that ate near the bottoms of shallow coastal water.
“Because of its heavy skeleton and, most likely, its very voluminous body, this animal was certainly a slow swimmer. This appears to me, at this stage of our knowledge, as a kind of peaceful giant, a bit like a super-sized manatee. Olivier Lambert, palaeontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels), said that it must have looked impressive but not scary.
Skeletal traits indicate Perucetus was related to Basilosaurus, another early whale that was similar in length but less massive.
Basilosaurus, however, was an active predator boasting a streamlined body, powerful jaws and large teeth.
“”It is exciting to be able to observe such an enormous animal, which was so unlike anything else we have ever seen,” Hans Thewissen said. He’s a paleontologist from Northeast Ohio Medical University.
Ancient Whale found in Peru could be the heaviest ever animal first appeared on Al Jazeera .