Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Whale wars!

Well maybe not "wars", but some violent enough encounters to say the least. The July issue of Nature contains the publication of a paper describing a new species of Miocene sperm whale from Peru that like Carcharocles megalodon (a gigantic shark contemporary of the whale), would have been a dominant predator feasting on other medium sized whales of the time. Named Leviathan melvillei ("Herman Mellville's giant mythological marine monster"), this whale represents one of the largest known raptorial predators, and may hold the superlative of "biggest tetrapod bite ever". Awesome.

This story has been bouncing around the web since yesterday (see Nature's news release and videos on the beast after the jumps), and the above image (by C. Letenneur of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, via The Guardian) has been bouncing around with it. While there is no denying that this whale was huge and the reconstruction looks amazing, this image can be a little (unintentionally) misleading. For example, you might assume that Leviathan was snacking on animals the size of a blue whale (which the baleen whale in the image certainly resembles). This was a big animal, but it wasn't quite that big. So just how large was Leviathan?
Inquiring minds want to know. So I did a real quick sketch. The image above shows the skulls of Tyrannosaurus (A), a modern sperm whale, Physeter (B), Leviathan (C), and a modern orca, Orcinus (D) alongside the "Gray Man". I based my whale skulls and scale on Figure 3 from the Nature article, and the T. rex is based on MOR 008, the largest skull specimen known at a length of 1.5 meters. That being said, yeah, Leviathan was still massive. Big enough to swallow a person whole (ok, maybe it would have to take a bite). I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be in the water with it, and I'm guessing most medium sized Miocene whales wouldn't either.

So there you have it. Giant, terrifying, predatory whale. I love it.

Lambert, O. et al.
2010. The giant bite of a new raptorial sperm whale from the Miocene epoch of Peru. Nature 466: 105-108.

Montana State University News Service. 2006. "Museum unveils world's largest T-rex skull". Retrieved 01 July, 2010 from

No comments:

Post a Comment