Scientists said that they found in Egypt a fossil of a previously unknown species of four-legged whales, 43 million years old, which helps to trace the transition of whales from land to sea. The newly discovered whale belongs to the Protocetidae, a group of extinct whales that fall in the middle of this transition, the Egyptian-led research team said in a statement.
Its fossil was found in Middle Eocene rocks in the Fayum Basin in the Western Desert of Egypt, an area once covered by the sea that has provided a rich reservoir of discoveries showing the evolution of whales. The researchers said that the new whale, dubbed Phiomicetus anubis, had an estimated body length of about three meters and a body weight of about 600 kilograms, was likely a predator. A partial skeleton has been shown to be the most primitive protocetid whale known in Africa.
“Phiomicetus anubis is a key new whale species and an important discovery for Egyptian and African paleontology,” said Abdullah Gohar of MUVP, lead author of the discovery article published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The genus name is given in honor of the Fayum Basin. and the species name refers to Anubis, the ancient Egyptian dog-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife.
Despite recent fossil discoveries, the researchers said the overall picture of the early evolution of whales in Africa remained largely a mystery. Work in the region could potentially reveal new details of the evolutionary transition from amphibians to fully aquatic whales. According to co-author Mohamed Sameh of the Egyptian Environmental Protection Agency, Mohamed Sameh of the Egyptian Environmental Protection Agency, with rocks that are about 12 million years, “range from semi-aquatic whales that look like crocodiles to giant all-aquatic whales.”
The new whale has raised questions about ancient ecosystems and directed research into questions such as the origin and coexistence of ancient whales in Egypt, said Hesham Sellam, founder of MUVP and another co-author.