"And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good." -- Genesis 1:21
"This whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act under orders." -- Herman Melville, author, Moby Dick, 1851
Nature: Call me Leviathan melvillei.
A Peruvian desert has turned out to be the final resting place of an ancient sperm whale with teeth much bigger than those of the largest of today's sperm whales.
The fossil, dated at 12–13 million years old, belongs to a new, but extinct, genus and species described in Nature today1. Named Leviathan melvillei, it probably hunted baleen whales.
A team of researchers recovered 75% of the animal's skull, complete with large fragments of both jaws and several teeth. On the basis of its skull length of 3 metres, they estimate that Leviathan was probably 13.5–17.5 metres long, within the range of extant adult male sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus).
Its largest teeth, however, are more than 36 centimetres long — nearly 10 centimetres longer than the largest recorded Physeter tooth.
Modern sperm whales lack functional teeth in their upper jaw and feed by suction, diving deep to hunt squid. Conversely, Leviathan had massive teeth in both its upper and lower jaws, and a skull that supported large jaw muscles. It may have hunted like raptorial killer whales, which use their teeth to tear off flesh.
Co-author Klaas Post of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam in the Netherlands stumbled across the fossil in November 2008 during the final day of a field trip to Cerro Colorado in the Pisco-Ica Desert on the southern coast of Peru — an area that is now above sea level owing to Andean tectonic activities. The fossils were prepared in Lima, where they will remain.