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Prehistoric whale fossil found in Peru

June 30, 2010 at 3:55 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, June 30 (UPI) -- Scientists say they've discovered the fossilized skull and jaw of a giant sperm whale, 12 million to 13 million years old, off the coast of Peru.

The fossil belongs to a previously unknown genus of sperm whale and has been named Leviathan melvillei in honor of Herman Melville, author of "Moby Dick," the journal Nature reported Wednesday.

At more than 40 feet long and with a 10-foot skull, it is the largest fossil sperm whale ever found, researcher Olivier Lambert of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris reported.

Modern sperm whales have relatively small teeth in their lower jaw only, and feed by suction. The fossil specimen had teeth as long as 14 inches in both upper and lower jaws and probably killed its prey in a manner similar to modern killer whales, Lambert said.

The fossil was found in ocean layers were fossils of giant sharks have been found, and the two predators probably preyed on large marine vertebrates like baleen whales, the Nature article said.

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