Egypt team identifies fossil of land-roaming whale species

AP
Egyptian scientists say the fossil of a four-legged prehistoric whale, unearthed over a decade ago in the country's Western Desert, is that of a previously unknown species.
AP

Egyptian scientists say the fossil of a four-legged prehistoric whale, unearthed over a decade ago in the country's Western Desert, is that of a previously unknown species. The creature, an ancestor of the modern-day whale, is believed to have lived 43 million years ago.

The prehistoric whale, known as semi-aquatic because it lived both on land and sea, sported features of an accomplished hunter, the team's leading paleontologist, Hesham Sallam said. "Features that make it stand out among other whale fossils."

The fossil was found by a team of Egyptian environmentalists in 2008 in an area that was covered by seas in prehistoric times, but researchers only published their findings confirming a new species last month.

Sallam said his team did not start examining the fossil until 2017 because he wanted to assemble the best and the most talented Egyptian paleontologists.

"This is the first time in the history of Egyptian vertebrate paleontology to have an Egyptian team leading a documentation of a new genus and species of four-legged whale," said Sallam.

The fossil sheds light on the evolution of whales from herbivore land mammals into carnivorous species that today live only in water. The transition took place over roughly 10 million years, according to an article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Egypt's Western Desert is known for its Whale Valley, or Wadi Al-Hitan, a tourist attraction and the country's only natural World Heritage site that contains fossil remains of another type of prehistoric whales.

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