Chile Finds Mysterious Whale Grave Fossils
Chile discovered various whale fossils from over 2 million years ago that died together off of the Pacific Coast of South America.
Chilean researchers and the Smithsonian Institution found over 75 whales, including over 20 perfectly preserved skeletons, laid next to each other over a hill in the Atacama Desert. It is become one of the world’s best-preserved graveyards of prehistoric whales, The Associated Press reports.
Scientists are still unsure about how these enormous whales, which are the size of buses, ended up in the desert together.
"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 and co-leader of the research.
"There are many ways that whales could die, and we're still testing all those different hypotheses," said Pyenson.
Pyenson also said that this area was once a “lagoon-like environment” so the whales probably died off once the lagoon dried up. Another possible explanation, according to early whales expert Hans Thewissen, is that the whales may have gathered at the lagoon and then may have been closed off from the ocean due to some natural disaster such as an earthquake or storm, the Associated Press reports.
Thewissen says determining the dates of fossils is complex and it will take much time and research to confirm whether the whales had indeed died simultaneously.
The Chilean government has now made this whale fossil location a protected zone.
Mario Suaresz, director of the Paleontological Museum in the nearby town of Caldera, believes there are many more whale fossils yet to be discovered at this site.
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