LIMA, Peru: Peruvian scientists announced that they have discovered the skull of an ancient ancestor of modern-day whales, which once lived in a prehistoric ocean that covered part of what is now Peru.
During a news conference, Rodolfo Salas, chief of paleontology at Peru's National University of San Marcos, told reporters that the well-preserved skull, which is some 36-million-year-old, was dug up intact last year in Peru's southern Ocucaje desert, displaying rows of long, pointy teeth.
According to scientists, the ancient mammal could be a basilosaurus, part of the aquatic cetacean family, whose contemporary descendants include whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Although Basilosaurus means "king lizard", the animal was a mammal and not a reptile. It likely measured some 39 feet long, being the height of a four-story building.
"It was a marine monster," Salas said, adding that the skull, which is already on display at the university's museum, may belong to a new species.
According to scientists, the first cetaceans evolved from mammals that lived on land some 55 million years ago, about 10 million years after an asteroid hit what is now Mexico's Yucatan peninsula and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and most other life on Earth.
When the basilosaurus died, its skull likely sunk to the bottom of the sea floor, where it was quickly buried and preserved, Salas noted, adding, "Back during this age, the conditions for fossilization were very good in Ocucaje."