Fossil of mega-toothed killer whale found in Peru

LIMA Thu Jul 1, 2010 12:16pm EDT

1 of 5. An assistant cleans the skull of a giant whale called Leviathan at the Natural History Museum in Lima, June 30, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Pilar Olivares

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LIMA (Reuters) - The fossil of a giant whale called Leviathan for having teeth bigger than a grown man's forearms has been found in Peru by paleontologists who on Thursday said it may have been the largest predator to ever roam the seas.

Leviathan Melvillei, which was named after the sea monster in the Bible and the author of "Moby Dick" Herman Melville, is an ancestor of the modern day sperm whale, said Rodolfo Salas, a paleontologist at Peru's Natural History Museum who took part in the study.

"This is an enormous tooth, more or less 14 inches long," Salas told Reuters. "The features of the teeth lead us to believe that the Leviathan was a big predator. It has the largest teeth on record."

The fossil of Leviathan was found two years ago and a team of scientists only unveiled the results of their find this week. Leviathan lived roughly 12 million years ago and its teeth were about twice as long as those of the great dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex.

"The Leviathan could have fed on other whales, which were very abundant and diverse in that period," said Salas.

As well as ten well-preserved teeth, the team of European and Peruvian paleontologists also found the whale's skull and its lower jaw. The findings were published in the journal Nature and the fossil will soon go on exhibit in Lima, Peru's capital.

The discovery was made in 2008 in the Ocucaje desert in southern Peru, which millions of years ago was the bed of a sea, and an area that has yielded dozens of big discoveries.

"In terms of (ancient) vertebrate sea life, Peru has the privilege of having the most important site in the world, the Ocucaje desert, which is where we've made this find," said Salas.

He said the Leviathan may have been bigger than one of its contemporaries, the Carcharocles Megalodon, widely regarded as the largest shark that ever lived, at some 65.5 feet in length.

"The Leviathan could have been the biggest predator that has ever lived in the sea," said Salas.

(Writing by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Terry Wade and Vicki Allen)

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