Researchers working in the Sahara desert have uncovered dozens of fossilised remains thought to be the prehistoric ancestors of whales.
The whale bones were found in the Wati El Hitan in the Egyptian desert, once covered by a huge prehistoric ocean, and one of the finds is a 37 million-year-old skeleton of a legged form of whale that measures more than 65 feet (20 metres) long.
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, in the Western Desert of Egypt, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Egypt’s Western Desert region is already known for the so-called Whale Valley, or Wadi Al-Hitan, a tourist attraction and the country’s only natural World Heritage site that contains fossil remains of another type of prehistoric whales.
It contains invaluable fossil remains of the earliest, and now extinct, suborder of whales, Archaeoceti. These fossils represent one of the major stories of evolution: the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal.
The fossil whale has been been named Phiomicetus Anubis, after the God of death in ancient Egypt. The species features an elongated skull and snout that suggest it was an efficient carnivore capable of grasping and chewing its prey. It was about 3m and weighed around 60 kgs, according to researchers. It is also believed to have had sharp hearing and sense of smell.
This is the most important site in the world for the demonstration of this stage of evolution. It portrays vividly the form and life of these whales during their transition. The number, concentration and quality of such fossils here is unique, as is their accessibility and setting in an attractive and protected landscape.
The fossils of Al-Hitan show the youngest archaeocetes, in the last stages of losing their hind limbs. Other prehistoric whales fossil material in the site makes it possible to reconstruct the surrounding environmental and ecological conditions of the time.