The sea ‘monster’ that inhabited Peruvian waters 36 million years ago
By Paula Bayarte
Lima, Mar 17 (EFE).- The fossilized skull of a predatory sea creature that inhabited Peruvian waters 36 million years ago has been found in Peru’s Ocucaje Desert by paleontologists from the San Marcos National University, who presented it at the Natural History Museum in Lima with the certainty that it will shed light on the evolution of cetaceans.
“We call it a sea ‘monster’ because of its appearance. It is an animal that has huge teeth, especially molars, and sharp canines – it was a predator of the seas that surely fed on any prey within its reach,” said Rodolfo Salas-Gismondii, who heads the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the museum.
The 1.35-meter long Ocucaje basilosaurus skull will be investigated further, helping to identify new fossils and contributing to studies on the evolution of the species.
The species has an appearance far removed from contemporary cetaceans, such as whales. It exceeded 12 meters in length and was a predator at the top of the food chain.
“It could be compared to the killer whale or white shark of our days,” said Salas-Gismondi.
“Perhaps this skull belongs to a new species of cetaceans. That makes us think that it may have great scientific value, it makes us imagine that there was a great diversity in the seas of that time that we still do not know and that there is still much to explore.”
The Ocucaje Desert is located in the Ica department, about 350 kilometers south of Lima, and was covered by the sea 4 million years ago.
The skull was found in rocks 36 million years old and Mario Urbina, the paleontologist who discovered the piece together with his team, had to drill up to six meters of stone to access it.
“The hardness of the rock and the fragility of such an ancient fossil added difficulty when extracting the skull,” said Urbina, adding that the excavation work will continue until the remains of the entire sea creature are recovered.
Both researchers pointed out the value of the finding at an international level, since other fossils of such ancient cetaceans are pieces and not as complete and as well preserved as the one found in Ocucaje, which has all its teeth.
This detail allows a better understanding of the cetacean’s anatomy and diet.
“This species was designed to eat tuna, since it needed the fat to be such a large animal, but sharks, sardines and even penguins were also part of its diet,” said Urbina, who assured that, near where he found the skull, he has found an even bigger one: “a version of Godzilla.” EFE