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Livyatan melvillei
Wolf Eagle Wrote:Livyatan melvillei

[Image: whale01-leviathan-rendering_22737_6.jpg]

Fossil range: Miocene, 12 Ma 
Scientific classification 
Kingdom: Animalia 
Phylum: Chordata 
Class: Mammalia 
Subclass: Eutheria 
Order: Cetacea 
Suborder: Odontoceti 
Superfamily: Physeteroidea 
Genus: Livyatan
Species: Livyatan melvillei

Leviathan melvillei is an extinct species of physeteroid whale. Fossilised remains, comprising 75% of the animal's skull, and large fragments of both jaws and several teeth, were discovered in the Pisco-Ica desert in southern Peru in 2008, in Miocene rocks 12-13 million years old.

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The skull of Leviathan melvillei measured 3 metres long, its longest teeth were 36 cm long, and it is thought its overall length would have been in the region of 13.5-17.5 m. It was similar in size and appearance to the modern sperm whale. Unlike the sperm whale, however, which only has functional teeth in its lower jaw, Leviathan melvillei had teeth in both jaws, and is thought to have been an aggressive predator, possibly preying on baleen whales.

[Image: prehistoric-sperm-whale-teeth-10063.jpg] 
Three lower teeth (a,b,c) of Leviathan melvillei compared to teeth of the modern sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus (d) and the modern killer whale Orcinus orca (e).

The genus name refers to the Leviathan of the Biblical, whereas the species epithet honours Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick. The discovery of L. melvillei was published in the journal Nature on June 30, 2010. The fossil has been placed in the collection of the Natural History Museum in Lima, Peru.


Gigantic Prehistoric Whale Hunted Other Whales

By Jeremy Hsu, LiveScience Senior Writer
posted: 30 June 2010 01:08 pm ET

A prehistoric leviathan that represented a more savage Moby Dick once hunted smaller whales around 12 million or 13 million years ago, researchers say. 

Fossils of the whale's skull and foot-long teeth found in Peru suggest the monstrous sperm whales ranged in size from almost 43 feet (13 meters) to 59 feet (18 meters), or longer than a school bus. Just the skull alone reaches a length of almost 10 feet (3 meters). 

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The ancient sperm whale's killer arsenal included 14-inch- (36-cm)- long teeth resembling elephant tusks that allowed it to rip and tear its prey, unlike modern sperm whales that lack functional teeth in their upper jaws and rely upon suction to grab giant squid. 

"Based on the size of teeth, robustness of jaws and size of temporal fossa (area of origin of jaw muscles) the bite of Leviathan must have been powerful, and he was likely able to tear pieces of meat from its prey like the modern killer whale," said Olivier Lambert, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. 

In fact, the specimen, named Leviathan melvillei, had the largest known bite of any vertebrate creature with four limbs. 

The whale specimen's name has origins in the Hebrew name for a mythical sea monster, and also gives a nod to Herman Melville, author of the novel "Moby-Dick." The new study about its discovery is detailed in the July 2 issue of the journal Nature. 

Researchers had previously only found teeth and bone fragments of such killer sperm whales. But the discovery of the new specimen allows them to piece together a story of what the Leviathan might have eaten. 

Top predator 

The ancient sperm whale could have feasted upon baleen whales that represented the smaller ancestors of today's humpback or blue whales, according to the researchers. 

Like modern baleen whales, the ancient varieties used comb-like plates in their mouths to filter seafood from water, and ranged in size from 23 to 33 feet (7 to 10 meters). Leviathan might have fed upon the high-caloric fatty blubber of such baleen whales to satisfy its nutritional needs as a top predator of the prehistoric seas. 

"It was larger than other marine mammals existing at that time, even baleen whales that were smaller than most of the living baleen whales," Lambert told LiveScience. 

The constant threat of Leviathan may have even pressured the baleen whales to begin evolving into the giants they resemble today as a means of protection, researchers said. But they added that the current fossil record remains too fragmented to support that view. 

Only the giant shark known as megalodon could have matched the Leviathan for size when alive. Whether the two behemoths ever competed for food or fought on occasion remains unknown, Lambert said. 

Where it went 

Having the view from the top of the food chain doesn't always look good. Top predators have unstable positions, because they rely upon a limited range of prey sizes to sustain themselves, Lambert pointed out. 

A cooling climate during the Late Miocene around 10 million or 11 million years ago resulted in the disappearance of giant, active predators such as Leviathan. That perhaps paved the way for the rise of smaller, active marine predators, such as the modern killer whale. 

Sperm whales that had specialized in deep-ocean feeding may have fared better than Leviathan, because the deep-ocean environment with no light and stable temperatures is less affected by climate change. 

"Sperm whales that feed on deep-living squid are much less vulnerable to climatic deterioration than surface-bound [active predators]," said Jelle Reumer, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam, Netherlands and coauthor on the study. "This could be one of the reasons that the squid-suckers still survive." 

The Leviathan now resides in the Natural History Museum of Lima, Peru, and may remain unique for a long time to come. The relatively small numbers of such top predators challenge paleontologists to find more examples. 

"While literally hundreds of baleen whale carcasses were found in the Peruvian desert, we up till now have only one Leviathan," Reumer said. 

[Image: prehistoric-moby-dick-100630-02.jpg]
Artistic view of the giant raptorial sperm whale Leviathan melvillei attacking a medium-size baleen whale off the coast of the area now occupied by Peru.

[Image: Livyatan_melvillei.jpg]

Livyatan melvillei is an extinct species of physeteroid whale, which lived during the Miocene epoch, approximately 12-13 million years ago.


In November 2008, fossil remains of Livyatan melvillei were discovered in the sediments of 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 researchers, led by Dr Christian de Muizon, director of the Natural History Museum in Paris, and included other palaeontologists from Utrecht University and the natural history museums of Rotterdam, Museo storia naturale di Pisa, the Museum of Natural History of the National University of San Marcos in Lima and Brussels.
The fossils have been dated at 12–13 million years old and were prepared in Lima, Peru, and are now part of the collection of the Natural History Museum there.

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.

Morphology and Habitat

[Image: Livyathan_melvillei.jpg]
Livyatan Teeth

The skull of Livyatan melvillei is 3 metres (10 ft) long. Unlike the modern sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, L. melvillei had functional dentition in both of its upper and lower 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 raptorial 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 claimed to be the largest of any animal yet known. Larger 'teeth' (tusks) are known - walrus and elephant tusks, for example - but these are not used directly in eating.

Skull Structure

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. L. melvillei is likely to have preyed upon 7–10 metres (23–33 ft) baleen whales, seals and dolphins.

Size Estimation

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.

Taipan Wrote:
thdyingbreed Wrote:Ancient sperm whale's giant head uncovered
The largest fossilized skull of the mammal is found off the coast of Peru. The 12-million-year-old skull belonged to a now-extinct genus and species of sperm whale.
[Image: leviathanhead.jpg]
Schoolchildren look at the ancient whale fossil on exhibit at the National History Museum in Lima. The behemoth is named Leviathan melvillei in honor of "Moby Dick" author Herman Melville. (ERNESTO BENAVIDES, AFP/Getty Images / June 30, 2010)

Paleontologists digging near the coast of Peru have uncovered the largest fossilized skull of a sperm whale ever found.

The 12-million-year-old skull, which measures nearly 10 feet across, belonged to a now-extinct genus and species of sperm whale that may have been as long as 57 feet. The fossil includes the longest documented sperm whale teeth, measuring more than 14 fearsome inches.

The whale, described in a paper published Thursday in the journal Nature, was christened Leviathan melvillei in honor of "Moby Dick" author Herman Melville.

The creature "was certainly a top predator, probably occupying the same ecological niche of the living killer whale," said Olivier Lambert, one of the study's lead authors and a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Modern sperm whales may grow to about the same size as Leviathan melvillei, but they dive deep into the ocean to feed on squid using suction. The older whale, on the other hand, may have used its sharp teeth to rip into mid-size baleen whales.

"That's a provocative idea," said Ewan Fordyce, a paleontologist specializing in whales and dolphins at the University of Otago in New Zealand, who was not involved in the discovery.

"If that's how it fed, it fed very differently from the modern sperm whale," he said. "It opens our eyes about the diversity of feeding habits."

Lambert said the fossil, which his team uncovered during the last few hours of the final day of digging on a research field trip in 2008, gives scientists a better picture of the diversity of marine mammalian life millions of years ago.

But the reason for the whales' demise remains a mystery. Perhaps their great size became a detriment, he said.

"When you become bigger, it becomes difficult to attack smaller animals," he said.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Taipan Wrote:Giant Sperm Whale from the Miocene Period Discovered in Peru

ScienceDaily (Oct. 13, 2010) — The sperm whale fossil record had still not revealed all its secrets -- until now! With the exception of a few isolated, large teeth, only animals significantly smaller than modern sperm whales have been discovered. In November 2008, during excavations organised by an international team (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle / Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS); Museo de Historia Natural, Lima; Università di Pisa, Pisa; Natuurhistorisch Museum, Rotterdam; Muséum des Sciences Naturelles, Bruxelles) in the coastal desert of the Ica region (southern Peru), the remains of a very large fossil sperm whale were unearthed in Miocene beds (12-13 million years ago) at the Cerro Colorado site. 
The skull, lower jaw and teeth of this giant predator were recovered and prepared and have formed the object of a joint study, the results of which were recently published in the journal Nature.

The largest teeth ever found 

The morphology of the newly discovered sperm whale differs considerably from that of the modern sperm whale. Despite its similar size, with a skull which is 3 metres long and an estimated total body length of between 13.5 and 17.5 metres, this animal, which has been named Leviathan melvillei in honour of Herman Melville and his famous novel "Moby Dick," has extremely strong teeth (on the lower jaw as well as the upper jaw). In fact, the largest teeth are more than 36cm long and have a diameter which can reach 12cm!

Large prey for a giant predator 

Given its size and the strength of its jaws and teeth, Leviathan was probably a superpredator, capable of feeding on large prey by trapping it in its powerful jaws and using its impressive teeth to kill it. Furthermore, Leviathan was discovered in geological layers dating from an epoch (end of the middle Miocene) during which the diversity of mysticetes (baleen whales) considerably increased. Some species of whale also reached significant sizes (around ten metres). Therefore, scientists have put forward the hypothesis that this large predator fed on baleen whales, as a large number of skeletons have been found at the Cerro Colorado site, where Leviathan was discovered.

It is also interesting to note that the teeth of another very large marine predator, the giant fossil shark Carcharocles megalodon, have also been discovered in large numbers at the Cerro Colorado site. So there could have been two superpredators fighting over prey with a very high nutritional value -- baleen whales.


While the descendants of squid-hunting sperm whales have survived into our times, as modern sperm whales (Physeter), Leviathan and other predatory sperm whales disappeared at the end of the Miocene or Pliocene epochs. Scientists still do not know why, but decreased diversity in their prey, baleen whales, at the end of the Miocene period, as well as climate change, may have played a role in their extinction. During the Pliocene, another group of toothed cetaceans would specialise in hunting large marine mammals; this group includes modern killer whales, Orcinus orca. Although significantly smaller than Leviathan (total size of less than 9 metres), through working together, killer whales are able to kill and consume large cetaceans (rorquals, humpback whales, grey whales, etc.).

This giant sperm whale's skull is on display at the Lima Natural History Museum (Peru).


Journal Reference:

Olivier Lambert, Giovanni Bianucci, Klaas Post, Christian de Muizon, Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, Mario Urbina, Jelle Reumer. The giant bite of a new raptorial sperm whale from the Miocene epoch of Peru. Nature, 2010; 466 (7302): 105 DOI: 10.1038/nature09067

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