Enormous Ancient 'Monster' Whale—Among Biggest Predators Ever—Discovered

The remains of an enormous ancient "monster" whale, one of the biggest predators ever, have been discovered in the Peruvian desert.

Speaking at a press conference on March 17, paleontologists said they made the discovery last year in the Ocucaje desert, in Peru's south.

The Ocucaje desert is a hotspot for fossils. Millions of years ago it was a shallow sea, and home to many other unusual, prehistoric creatures. According to Phys, the desert provides paleontologists with around 42 million years worth of evolutionary evidence. Other fossils discovered there include the four-legged dwarf whales and walking- whales.

This newly discovered predator was a "marine monster," paleontologist at Peru's National University Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi told Reuters.

Basilosaurus
A picture shows the fossil, which is now housed at the Museum of Natural History, in Lima, ERNESTO BENAVIDES/Getty Images

According to Reuters, the predator once measured 39 feet in length. However, AFP put the length at 55 feet.

The intact fossil was found to have rows of sharp teeth, and it surely did "a lot of damage" while searching for its food, Salas-Gismondi told Reuters. It likely fed on sharks, tuna, and schools of sardines.

The creature was part of the basilosaurus family–a group of ancient cetaceans. However, it differs from other species in the family because of its huge size.

Salsas-Gismondi told AFP that at the time, the Peruvian sea was warm and the conditions were good for fossilization. When this ancient basilosaurus died, its skull probably sank to the bottom of the sea where it was buried, he said, never to be seen again until millions of years later.

"This is an extraordinary find because of its great state of preservation," Salas-Gismondi said. "Thanks to this type of fossil, we can reconstruct the history of the Peruvian sea."

The fossil, which had been dubbed the 'Ocucaje Predator' is "very important," Mario Urbina, head of the discovery team, told AFP. According to Urbina, there have been no other similar fossils discovered anywhere else in the world.

The fossil is now kept at the Museum of Natural History in Lima.

Basilosaurus
The creature was one of the largest predators to live. ERNESTO BENAVIDES/Getty Images

The first-ever cetaceans evolved from land mammals around 55 million years ago, during the Eocene period. The first basilosauruses to be discovered were, at first, mistaken for dinosaur fossils. The mammals they evolved from were likely four-legged, hoofed creatures, and some of the earlier basilosaurus fossils were found with remnants of back legs and front flippers.

Between 56 million and 34 million years ago, cetaceans adapted to become fully aquatic. The whales that still swim in our seas today had not yet evolved and almost all cetaceans, such as the basilosaurus, were macropredators.

The basilosaurus is thought to have gone extinct about 33 million years ago, when the Eocene period ended.