U-M paleontologist Philip Gingerich and colleagues at the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) announced April 10 the successful excavation of an unusually complete and well-preserved skeleton of the 40 million-year-old fossil whale Basilosaurus isis.
The skeleton is 18 meters (50 feet) long and was found in Wadi Hitan in the Western Sahara of Egypt. The firstBasilosaurus fossil was found in 1905, but no full skeleton has been discovered until now.
“Basilosaurus is an enigma of whale evolution because of its unusually long serpentine body,” Gingerich says.
“The research team will use the new skeleton to study how it lived and swam, and possibly to learn why it is so abundant in Wadi Hitan.”
This latest discovery is expected to enhance education about whales and geological history in Egypt.
It also will help in developing and publicizing the network of national parks in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak is emphasizing preservation of natural resources by providing support for conservation of the natural environment.
Wadi Hitan is a protected area administered by EEAA and is being developed as a national park by an Italian-Egyptian cooperative program. It also has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its natural beauty and scientific importance.
Sea-living animals found in the Wadi Hitan desert include five species of whales, among them the Dorudon atrox, presently exhibited in the U-M Exhibit Museum. There also are three species of sea cows (Sirenia), two crocodiles, several turtles and a sea snake, in addition to a large number of fossilized sharks and bony fishes.