Temporal range: Miocene, 12–13Ma
|Reconstruction of Livyatan (left) and Cetotherium (right)|
Lambert et al., 2010
(Lambert et al., 2010)
In November 2008, fossil remains of Livyatan melvillei were discovered in the sediments of the Pisco formation at Cerro Colorado, 35 kilometres (22 mi) south-southwest of Ica, Peru. The remains include a partially preserved skull with teeth and mandible. Rotterdam Natural History Museum researcher Klaas Post stumbled across them on the final day of a field trip there in November 2008. Post was part of an international team of palaeontologists.
Etymology and nomenclature
Researchers originally assigned the English name of the biblical monster, Leviathan, to this prehistoric whale as Leviathan melvillei, dedicating the discovery to Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick—the researchers behind the excavation of L. melvillei were all fans of this novel. However, the scientific name Leviathan was a junior homonym of Leviathan Koch, 1841 for a genus of mastodon (see Leviathan in Wikispecies). Junior homonyms need to be replaced with new names, except under certain special circumstances (ICZN 1999 Article 60). In August 2010, the authors rectified this situation by coining a new genus name for the whale, Livyatan, from the original Hebrew spelling.
Livyatan melvillei was 13.5 to 17.5 metres (44–57 ft) long, about the same as a modern adult male sperm whale. The skull of Livyatan melvillei is 3 metres (10 ft) long. Unlike the modern sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, L. melvillei had functional teeth in both its jaws. The jaws of L. melvillei were robust and its temporal fossa was also considerably larger than in the modern-age sperm whale. L. melvillei is one of the largest predators yet known, with whale experts using the phrase "the biggest tetrapod bite ever found" to explain their find. The teeth of L. melvillei are up to 36 centimetres (1.18 ft) long and are thought to be the largest of any animal yet known. Larger 'teeth' (tusks) are known, such as walrus and elephant tusks, but these are not used directly in eating.
Two physeterids have been chosen by whale experts for comparison to estimate the size of L. melvillei. The anatomy of Physeter macrocephalus yielded a total length (TL) of 13.5 m (= 44.3 feet) for L. melvillei, and that of Zygophyseter varolai yielded a TL of 17.5 m (= 57.5 feet) for L. melvillei.
The fossil skull of L. melvillei has a curved basin which suggests it might have had a large spermaceti organ, a series of oil and wax reservoirs separated by connective tissue. This organ is thought to help modern sperm whales to dive deeply to feed. However, L. melvillei is likely to have hunted large prey near the surface, so it appears that this organ would have had other functions. Possible suggestions include echolocation, acoustic displays (with the spermaceti organ acting as a resonance chamber) or aggressive headbutting, possibly used against competing males in mating contests or to batter prey.
Fossil remains of many other animals—including baleen whales, beaked whales, dolphins, porpoises, sharks, sea turtles, seals and sea birds—have been found at the same site where the remains of L. melvillei have been excavated.
L. melvillei would have been a top predator of its time along with the giant shark, C. megalodon, which was contemporaneous with L. melvillei in the same region, and the whale probably had a profound impact on the structuring of Miocene marine communities. The appearance of gigantic raptorial sperm whales in the fossil record coincides with a phase of diversification and size-range increase of the baleen-bearing mysticetes in the Miocene.
- Fang, Janet (30 June 2010). "Call me Leviathan melvillei". nature news (Nature).
- Lambert, Olivier; Giovanni Bianucci; Klaas Post; Christian de Muizon; Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi; Mario Urbina; Jelle Reumer (1 July 2010). "The giant bite of a new raptorial sperm whale from the Miocene epoch of Peru". Nature (Peru: Nature) 466 (7302): 105–108. doi:10.1038/nature09067. PMID 20596020. Retrieved 2 July 2010.
- Ghosh, Pallab (30 June 2010). "'Sea monster' whale fossil unearthed". BBC News (BBC).
- Sample, Ian (30 June 2010). "Fossil sperm whale with huge teeth found in Peruvian desert". guardian.co.uk.
- Lambert, O.; Bianucci, G.; Post, K.; de Muizon, C.; Salas-Gismondi, R.; Urbina, M.; Reumer, J. (2010). "The giant bite of a new raptorial sperm whale from the Miocene epoch of Peru [Corrigendum]". Nature 466 (7310): 1134. doi:10.1038/nature09381.
- "New Leviathan Whale Was Prehistoric "Jaws"?". National Geographic Daily News (National Geographic). 30 June 2010.
|Wikispecies has information related to: Livyatan melvillei|
- 'Sea monster' fossil found in Peru desert by CNN
- Ancient sperm whale's giant head uncovered from Los Angeles Times (The skull is on display in National History Museum in Lima)
- A killer sperm whale with details on sperm whale evolution
- Livyatan article on prehistoric-wildlife.com with size comparison to a human