Ancient sea monster dined on whales

Posted by Staff writer

Named for the author of Moby Dick, a newly-discovered fossil whale makes Captain Ahab's nemesis look like a shrimp.

Leviathan melvillei was as big as modern whales, but was a fierce predator, attacking dolphins, squid and other whales. Its discoverers say it had the biggest bite of any sea creature ever.

A Miocene raptorial whale, the creature roamed the seas around 12 million years ago.

The 17-meter-long creature was discovered by a team of palaeontologists from several European Natural History Museums and Utrecht University.

Klaas Post, honorary curator of fossil mammals at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, stumbled over the remains at the very end of a short expedition in the Pisco-Ica desert in coastal Peru.

Only the ten-foot-long skull, the mandibles, and several teeth remain. The teeth were gigantic: measurements show they could reach a diameter of 12cm and a length of over 36cm. They appear to have belonged to an animal about 13 to 18m long.

Nine teeth were found in each side of the skull, and eleven in each of the lower jaws. It was clearly a powerful predator.

"The animal probably fed itself by devouring baleen whales," say its discoverers. "The high caloric value of the fatty blubber of these baleen whales may have satisfied the nutritional needs of Leviathan."

This diet is very different from that of today's sperm whale - Physeter macrocephalus - which feeds on squid by sucking them up from the depths.

It apparently failed to survive the Late Miocene climatic cooling.