Saturday, April 30, 2005

Whale Found in Egypt Desert

from National Geographic's Photo in the News

Photograph (c) Philip D. Gingerich/University of Michigan

April 14, 2005—Egypt may not be the first place you'd look for whales, but once upon a time the Wadi Hitan desert was underwater and teeming with the sea giants.

Just this week here, geologist Philip D. Gingerich announced his team had excavated the first known nearly complete skeleton of a Basilosaurus isis (pictured). The 50-foot-long (18-meter-long), 40-million-year-old fossil will now be shipped to Michigan, where experts will preserve it. Later they will return the fossil to Egypt along with a complete cast of the skeleton.

The first of the truly gigantic whales, Basilosaurus had the serpentine shape of a sea monster and short, sharp teeth for hunting sharks and other prey. Unlike today's whales, it had no blowhole—the ancient behemoth had to raise its head above water to breathe. What's more, Basilosaurus still had the feet it inherited from its land-dwelling ancestors, according to Gingerich, who works for the University of Michigan and is a National Geographic Society grantee.

—Ted Chamberlain

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