Tiny ‘King Tut’ whale ‘lived fast and died fast’ in ancient Egyptian waters

A tiny whale that lived for 41 millennia ago in Egypt was young and the smallest of its kind. This led researchers to name it in honor of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, who died at 18.

The species was named Tutcetus Rayanensis, the new species of basilosaurid that is an extinct family of fully aquatic cetaceans is the tiniest basilosaurid whale ever to exist, according to a study released the previous Thursday (Aug. 10.) in the Journal of Communications Biology. The whale of the past measured around eight feet (2.5 meters) long and weighed approximately 412 lbs (187 kilograms), roughly the weight of an adult tiger ( Panthera tigris).

Although it was more significant than humans are, T. Rayanensis appeared to be “miniature” when measured alongside other basilosaurids. According to a report, they ranged between 13 and 59 feet in length (4 to 18 meters).

Paleontologists found the whales fossilized remains about five times ago in the Fayum Depression, a desert basin near the Nile River in Egypt. After studying the fossilized marine mammal’s jaw, skull teeth, and vertebrae fragments, they discovered that, since the skull’s bones and vertebrae had already bonded and the adult teeth were forming, the animal was in the process of becoming adult at the time it died according to the study.

The researchers couldn’t resist the urge to be struck by the similarities between T. Rayanensis’ death in the early years and the boy pharaoh who passed away in 1323 B.C.

“King Tut died young as well,”  an archaeologist from The Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology at The American University in Cairo said to Live Science.

The well-preserved teeth of the animal not only offered information about its age at death but also suggested what the whale might have eaten during early times in the Tethys Ocean.

“We were lucky to have a complete set of T. rayanensis’ lower teeth and discovered that it was almost mature but still subadult,” a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Zoology at Mansoura University in Egypt said to Live Science. “Its teeth had very smooth enamel, which is an indication of very soft feeding mainly on fish, squids, octopus and other not-fast-moving prey.”

Since its permanent molars appeared before the permanent premolars occurrence that is common in mammals that have shorter life cycles, The researchers concluded that the mini whale could be sexually mature at an earlier time. However, it was also dead earlier than the other species of basilosaurids, as per the study.

” T. rayanensis lived fast and died fast,” Gohar said on Live Science. “This could also be an adaptation to climate change.”

If so, the whale’s diminutive size and short lifespan could indicate the Lutetian Thermal Maximum, a temperature increase around 42 million years ago. It witnessed animals shrink, as per the research.


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