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Perucetus colossus whale may be the largest animal that ever lived

A recent discovery is challenging what we know about the largest animals to ever inhabit our planet. The extinct whale known as Perucetus colossus, or “the colossal whale from Peru,” is vying for the title of heaviest animal to ever exist. This enormous sea creature is giving today’s blue whale, the current titleholder, some stiff competition.

Unearthed from the Ica desert of Peru, a region that was once underwater and now celebrated for its marine fossils, the massive skeletal remains of this giant creature tell a tale of an animal of incredible proportions. Each of its vertebrae weighs over 220 pounds (100 kilograms), and the ribs stretch to nearly 5 feet (1.4 meters) in length.

Dr. Hans Thewissen, a paleontologist at Northeast Ohio Medical University, did not participate in the research. He remarked on the finding, stating: “It’s just exciting to see such a giant animal that’s so different from anything we know.”

Gigantic Perucetus colossus fossils 

The enormous Perucetus colossus fossils, which are estimated to be around 39 million years old, were first discovered more than a decade ago by Mario Urbina of the University of San Marcos Natural History Museum in Lima. 

Working on a steep, rocky slope, an international team spent years excavating the side of the hill to reveal 13 vertebrae from the whale’s backbone, four ribs, and a hip bone.

Alberto Collareta, a paleontologist at Italy’s University of Pisa and one of the study’s authors, found the discovery striking. He declare that the fossils “are unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

How scientists studied Perucetus colossus 

After years of careful excavation, the research team applied modern technology to study the Perucetus colossus bones further. They utilized 3D scanners to analyze the surface and even drilled into them to peek inside. 

Based on the massive but incomplete skeleton, the experts estimated the whale’s size and weight by comparing it to modern marine mammals, explained study author Eli Amson, a paleontologist at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany.

The team’s calculations indicated that the massive whale weighed somewhere between 94 and 375 tons (85 and 340 metric tons), with its body stretching to around 66 feet (20 meters) long. This puts it in a similar range as the biggest blue whales, which weigh around 200 tons (180 metric tons) and can grow to over 100 feet (30 meters) in length.

However, the new discovery doesn’t merely rival the blue whale in size. Collareta explained that it was “possibly the heaviest animal ever,” but clarified that “it was most likely not the longest animal ever.”

Remarkable features 

One remarkable feature of Perucetus colossus is the density of its bones, which are much heavier than those of a blue whale. 

This particular characteristic led Amson to the observation that this could suggest the whale inhabited shallow, coastal waters, much like other coastal dwellers such as manatees, which have heavy bones to help them stay close to the seafloor.

Unanswered questions 

The absence of the skull leaves unanswered questions about the whale’s diet and how it managed to sustain such an enormous body. Though some believe that Perucetus colossus may have scavenged along the seafloor or consumed large quantities of krill and tiny sea creatures, Thewissen wasn’t so sure. He says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if this thing actually fed in a totally different way that we would never imagine.”

The discovery of Perucetus colossus opens a new chapter in our understanding of prehistoric marine life. It presents scientists and enthusiasts alike with a glimpse into an ancient world where giants roamed the seas, challenging our knowledge of nature’s boundaries. The research is published in the journal Nature.

Today’s heaviest whales

Blue whales are part of the baleen family, which also includes humpback whales and whales. Blue whales can reach lengths of up to 100 feet (30 meters) and can weigh as much as 200 tons (180 metric tons). Their heart alone can weigh as much as an automobile.

These magnificent marine mammals display a distinct blue-grey color, with lighter underbellies. They primarily feed on tiny shrimp-like animals called krill. During feeding season, a single adult blue whale can consume up to 36,000 kilograms of krill in a day.

Blue whales are usually solitary or live in small groups. They are also capable of producing the loudest sound of any animal. Underwater, other whales can hear their voices over distances of hundreds of miles. Despite their enormous size, blue whales are difficult to detect and count because they live and feed in the open ocean, often far from shore.


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