200 tons of bones and flesh. The heaviest animal in Earth’s history discovered. In the scientific journal Nature, a report was published on Wednesday about the study of giant fossilized remains of an ancient whale found in the desert in South America, in southern Peru.
“The remains were actually found 13 years ago, but they were of such size and shape that it took three years just to transport them to Lima, the capital of Peru, where they have been studied ever since,” explained Dr. Eli Amson, a member of the paleontologist team led by Dr. Mario Urbina.
This whale is believed to have lived about 39 million years ago. It was a bit smaller (shorter) than the current largest animals, blue whales, but, as scientists found out, much denser and heavier, so only the largest of the blue whales ever caught come close to its estimated mass.
A total of 18 bones of the prehistoric giant were found: 13 vertebrae, four ribs, and part of a femur. This was enough for scientists to understand how heavy this whale could have been.
The thing is, its bones appeared to be affected by diseases called osteosclerosis and pachyostosis: the internal cavities were filled with bone tissue, and the bones were disproportionately thick with additional growths on the surfaces.
However, in the scientists’ opinion, these were not diseases but rather an evolutionary adaptation: a giant whale that fed in shallow waters needed to be strong. Similar bones are found in present-day manatees, which live in coastal areas in various parts of the world.
Scientists calculated that the Peruvian colossus could have been about 17-20 meters long, which is not particularly impressive, as blue whales can reach up to 30 meters. However, the mass of just the skeleton of the fossilized giant was somewhere between 5.3 and 7.6 tons.
If you add muscles, internal organs, and skin to this, the total body mass ranges, depending on different assumptions, from 85 to 320 tons.
Dr. Eli Amson, curator at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, suggests using a median estimate of 180 tons.
The largest of the blue whales caught during the whaling era were approximately that weight.
“But we have no reason to think that our individual was particularly large or small… So, we should keep in mind that our median estimate already comes in at the highest levels for blue whales,” said Dr. Amson on BBC Radio.
The team studying the Peruvian remains compared them, among other things, with a blue whale whose enormous skeleton has been on display at the Natural History Museum in London since 2017.
According to their estimation, the “Peruvian” whale was about five meters shorter but two to three times heavier than this modern-day whale.