A new candidate for the title of heaviest animal in recorded Earth history has been revealed by scientists in Peru.
Although the blue whale of today has long held the honor, scientists claimed on Wednesday that Perucetus colossus remains, which were discovered there, may tip the scales. The early whale was constructed somewhat like a manatee and was probably about 20 meters (66 feet) long. It existed approximately 38–40 million years ago during the Eocene era.
It could have weighed up to 340 metric tonnes, outweighing all other known animals, including the largest dinosaurs and the blue whale of the present day.
“Colossal Peruvian whale” is what its scientific name denotes.
A palaeontologist from the University of Pisa in Italy, Giovanni Bianucci, is the lead author of the study that was published in the journal Nature. “The main feature of this animal is certainly the extreme weight, which suggests that evolution can generate organisms that have characteristics that go beyond our imagination,” he said.
Perucetus was estimated to have a minimum mass of 85 tonnes and an average mass of 180 tonnes. The largest blue whale ever recorded was about 190 tonnes in weight but was 33.5 meters (110 feet) longer than Perucetus.
The Argentinosaurus, a long-necked, four-legged herbivore believed to weigh approximately 76 tonnes, was the most substantial dinosaur according to a study released in May. It lived about 95 million years ago in Argentina.
Mario Urbina from the Natural History Museum of the University of San Marcos in Lima made the discovery of Perucetus’ fragmentary skeleton more than ten years ago.
An international team spent years excavating them from the side of a rocky, steep hill in Peru’s Ica desert, an area noted for its abundance of marine fossils. The end result was 13 whale backbone vertebrae, four ribs, and a hip bone. The extraordinarily large bones were highly compressed and solid.
According to the authors, the incredibly dense bones indicate that the whale may have spent some of its life in shallow coastal waters. Other coastal inhabitants, referred to as sirenians, include manatees and dugongs. Their heavy bones enable them maintain a strong relationship with the seafloor.
Perucetus may have led a life similar to that of sirenians, which were not active predators but rather animals that foraged at the bottom of shallow coastal waters.
This species was undoubtedly a slow swimmer due to its massive skeleton and, most likely, its relatively large body. At this point in our knowledge, this seems to be a kind of gentle giant that resembles a very large manatee. Paleontologist Olivier Lambert of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels noted that although it must have been a really spectacular animal, it may not have been particularly frightening.
Perucetus was connected to Basilosaurus, another early whale that was similar in length but less massive, based on skeletal characteristics.
The aggressive predator Basilosaurus, however, had a sleek physique, strong jaws, and big teeth.
“It’s just exciting to see such a giant animal that’s so different from anything we know,” said Hans Thewissen, a palaeontologist at Northeast Ohio Medical University who played no part in the study.