Researchers discover remains of four-legged amphibious whale in Egypt’s Fayoum

Daily News Egypt
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An Egyptian research team discovered a new genus of ancestors of amphibian whales that lived in Egypt about 43 million years ago. The team documented their discovery in a paper published on Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences.

The team discovered the fossils in 2008. By analysing the bones, it was possible to record a new genus and species from the ancestors of the four-legged amphibious whale that lived in Egyptian waters.

In cooperation with the Center for Vertebrate Paleontology at Mansoura University, the lead researcher in the study, Abdullah Gohar, a master’s student at the Faculty of Science, Mansoura University, was able to decipher the mystery of these fossils. 

This study represents the first time in history that an Egyptian team has led the documentation of a new species and genus of whales.

The new Egyptian whale was named Phiomicetus Anubis in honour of the name of the Fayoum oasis – the place from which its fossils were extracted – while the species “Anubis” was named after the god of death and mummification in the ancient Egyptian civilisation, to give the purely Egyptian character to the discovery.

Phiomicetus Anubis was one of the fiercest creatures at the time in which it lived tens of millions of years ago, when a large sector of Egyptian lands was covered by a vast and ancient water surface, the Great Mediterranean Sea or the “Sea of ​​Tethys”, where ancient marine creatures and predators lived for millions of years before their arrival. 

Environmental changes led to the extinction of many of these species, including the ancestors of whales

The discovered whale is about three meters long and weighs about 600 kg, according to Mohamed Sameh, director of the Department of Geology and Excavations in the Nature Protection Sector at the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, and the co-author of the study, who explained that Phiomicetus Anubis had the ability to walk on land and swim in the sea. 

The new whale is considered the oldest whale discovered in Africa, and was distinguished by the strength of its teeth and jaw, as its bite was so strong that it exceeded the fatal bite of a crocodile. It was also distinguished by strong smell and hearing abilities, similar to mammals that live on land.

The fossils included a large part of the bones of the skull, some bones of the thorax, and parts of the lower jaw. The anatomical characteristics of the whale revealed that it was characterised by great predatory skills, strong and huge jaw muscles, which enabled it to dominate the environment in which it lived at the time.

Sameh added that there are many unique remains of ancient whales in the rocks of the Eocene era in the Wadi Al-Hitan region in the fossil-rich Fayoum depression, an area that contains sediments covering a time period of about 12 million years, and is of great importance in the study of whale evolution.

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