The blue whale, more precisely the humpback whale, can weigh up to two hundred tons. The largest dinosaur of all time, the Argentinosaurus, weighed no more than 77 tons. And the current largest land mammal, the African elephant, reaches six tons. But all these numbers pale in comparison to the creature that was given the name perucet colossus.
This 37-million-year-old cetacean could have weighed an incredible 300 tons, according to a new study by Italian paleontologists. Although it was slightly shorter than modern whales, it had a significantly stronger body.
The remains of this giant were discovered thirteen years ago by paleontologist Mario Urbina in southern Peru. At the time, the fossils didn’t catch on very well, because to scientists they looked more like boring pieces of rock than anything unique. Only a few years later it became clear that this was not a stone of a strange shape, but the fossilized remains of the bones of a truly massive animal. Scholars then devoted the next ten years of their careers to his research.
Thirteen vertebrae, four ribs, part of a thigh. Little of Perucet has survived. But modern paleontological methods were enough for scientists to outline which animals he belonged to, how he differed from them and how he could look. Apparently it was a “cousin” of Basilosaurus, a prehistoric cetacean that was already fully adapted to the aquatic environment and boasted a long snout reminiscent of modern sperm whales.
Perucet was not a giant in body length, his height was less than nineteen meters, but this made him more massive. A significant part of this was his skeleton, which was characterized by pachyostosis, i.e. extreme thickening of the bones. This helped him stay underwater, his body didn’t drag him to the surface unnecessarily. Thanks to this, diving did not cost him too much energy.
But it would be even more difficult for him to surface. Therefore, scientists suggest that the evolution of Peruceta occurred in a similar way, for example, to manatees. They have a large amount of tissue, which allows them to float in the water and emerge when necessary. When paleontologists calculated how much fat and muscle would be ideal for this prehistoric cetacean, they concluded that it weighed between 93 and 370 tons.
There is little evidence, but it brings knowledge
So far, the authors of the study have not been able to provide more precise estimates. They would like to believe that they have found the largest creature in history, but they lack evidence. And they admit that from the little that has survived, they will no longer recognize.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Perucetus was among the cetaceans that have no close relatives today, making comparison difficult.
Even if the size of a prehistoric creature were near the lower limit, that is, “only” sixty tons, the discovery is important for scientific progress. Paleontology suggests that for most of their existence, whales were nowhere near the giants they are today, and reached their size about five million years ago.
But Perucetus reached this size thirty million years earlier, which shows that science may have underestimated the first cetaceans and their size.
How Leviathan Hunts
From whales perucet colossus he also differed in his diet. While modern cetaceans feed on krill filtered from seawater, Perucetus was a predator. So he hunted for larger prey, but what it could be, and probably will remain a mystery for a long time to come. Mainly because its upper half, including its head, is completely missing, making it extremely difficult to assess its food source.