Paleontologists working in Peru’s Ocucaje Desert have found a collection of whale fossils believed to be over 40 million years old. According to euronews.com, the newly unearthed fossils are the oldest in South America and could provide scientists with a better understanding of a group of animals called Archaeoceti, or ancient whales.

Ancient whales are believed to have lived between 55 and 23 million years ago during the Early Eocene and Late Oligocene ages. These animals bore little resemblance to modern whales. The earliest of whales was about the size and shape of a wolf and lived primary on land or near rivers. These “walking whales” most likely waded in water, instead of living in it. Early Archaeoceti skulls were similar to those of modern-day hyenas and were well-equipped to hunt fish. Eventually ancient whales evolved into animals better adapted to living in the water for long periods of time. Larger than their predecessors, and boasting padded crocodile-like feet and powerful tales, these whales made formidable ambush predators.

Over millions of years, land-dwelling whales eventually became completely aquatic animals. They lost their ability to “walk” but quickly became dominant predators—as well as the largest—in the world’s oceans. Discoveries of ancient whale fossils have mostly been restricted to Pakistan, India, Egypt, and the United States. Peruvian paleontologists were more than pleased to make the momentous discovery on their own soil, adding that the Ocucaje Desert may be a treasure trove future excavation.

“There is probably a greater number of fossils in the sand but it takes high-tech equipment to locate and recover them,” said Cesar Chacaltana, one of the expedition’s leaders.

According to the Daily Mail, the remains of 15 whales have been found so far.

Image from Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on the Wikimedia Commons

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