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Famed 'White Whale' Fossil Discovered to Have Feasted on Seals and Small Whales

First Posted: Dec 15, 2015 08:45 AM EST

The scientists reanalyzed the large but incomplete Ontocetus oxymycterus fossil sperm whale specimen from California that was originally described in 1925. Originally, this species was put in the genus Ontocetus since it was originally thought to be a tooth taxon. However, now the researchers have found that species have walrus tusks instead of cetacean teeth, which means the species is now in the genus Albicetus, creating the name Albicetus oxymycterus. In this case, Albicetus means "white."

The researchers also analyzed the whale's body size in comparison to the sperm whale evolutionary tree. They found that this whale fed on much larger prey-perhaps marine mammals such as seals and other smalls whales rather than the squid that modern sperm whales feed on.

"This means that, around 15 million years ago when there were a lot of large sperm whales with big teeth like Albicetus, it may have been a moment of peak richness in the number and diversity of marine mammals serving as prey to these whales," said Alexandra Boersma, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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