SANTIAGO, CHILE (AP) - More than 2 million years ago, scores of whales congregating off the Pacific Coast of South America mysteriously met their end.
Maybe they became disoriented and beached themselves. Maybe they were trapped in a lagoon by a landslide or a storm. Maybe they died there over a period of a few millennia. But somehow, they ended up right next to one another, many just meters (yards) apart, entombed as the shallow sea floor was driven upward by geological forces and transformed into the driest place on the planet.
Today, they have emerged again atop a desert hill more than a kilometer (half a mile) from the surf, where researchers have begun to unearth one of the world’s best-preserved graveyards of prehistoric whales.
Chilean scientists together with researchers from the Smithsonian Institution are studying how these whales, many of the them the size of buses, wound up in the same corner of the Atacama Desert.
Experts say other groups of prehistoric whales have been found together in Peru and Egypt, but the Chilean fossils stand out for their staggering number and beautifully preserved bones. More than 75 whales have been discovered so far _ including more than 20 perfectly intact skeletons.
They provide a snapshot of sea life at the time, and even include what might have been a family group: two adult whales with a juvenile between them.
“I think they died more or less at the same time,” said Nicholas Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Pyenson and Suarez are jointly leading the research.
As for why such a great number perished in the same place, Pyenson said: “There are many ways that whales could die, and we’re still testing all those different hypotheses.”
The scientists have yet to publish their findings about the fossil bed and the extensive remains, which began to emerge in June last year during a highway-widening project that is now on hold.
So far, the fossils have been found in a roadside strip the length of two football fields _ about 240 meters (260 yards) long and 20 meters (yards) wide.
Pyenson said the spot was once a “lagoon-like environment” and that the whales probably died between 2 million and 7 million years ago.
Most of the fossils are baleen whales that measured about 8 meters (25 feet) long, Pyenson said.
The researchers also discovered a sperm whale skeleton and remains of a now-extinct dolphin that had two walrus-like tusks and previously had only turned up in Peru, he said.
“We’re very excited about that,” Pyenson said in a telephone interview. “It is a very bizarre animal.”View Entire Story
By Andrew P. Napolitano
The president's men trash the Constitution to pursue antagonists
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
Consummate traveler Todd DeFeo explores the unique stories that make destinations worth going to.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall
NRA kicks off annual convention