Numerous boats are known to have been shattered by his immense flukes, or ground to pieces in the crush of his powerful jaws; and, on one occasion, it is said that he came off victorious from a conflict with the crews of three English whalers, striking fiercely at the last of the retreating boats at the moment it was rising from the water, in its hoist up to the ship’s davits.
It must not be supposed, howbeit, that through all this desperate warfare, our leviathan passed [unscathed]. A back serried with irons, and from fifty to a hundred yards of line trailing in his wake, sufficiently attested that though unconquered, he had not proved invulnerable.
Text reposted from npr.
‘Rarely do scientists get to publish a research paper that begins with the words “The Giant Bite.” Recently, fossil hunters from Europe did just that. They’ve discovered one of the biggest predators that ever lived: a whale — one that devoured other whales and probably anything else it had an appetite for.
The scientists call the creature Leviathan melvillei. “Leviathan” means sea monster, and “melvillei” refers, of course, to Herman Melville, who wrote the greatest of whale stories, Moby-Dick.
Paleontologist Olivier Lambert is with the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, and you might call him a modern-day Ahab, though what he’s after are the whitened bones of extinct whales. Two years ago in a Peruvian desert, his team found some from a sperm whale that lived and died some 12 to 13 million years ago — when the desert was underwater.
But this wasn’t the kind of gentle giant we know nowadays. Our sperm whales have tiny teeth and feed by sucking squid into their capacious mouths. Most other whales don’t have teeth at all. They filter-feed on plankton or shrimplike krill.
But Leviathan had an astonishing set of choppers. “These are probably the largest teeth that I have ever seen,” says Lambert. “The maximum length of some of the teeth is 36 centimeters.”
That would be about 15 inches long — and 4 to 5 inches wide at the base. “It looks like an elephant tusk,” Lambert says of the whale’s tooth. “It’s really big.”
The mouth was about 9 feet long and up to 7 feet wide. The upper and lower teeth interlocked when the mouth closed — good for securing prey and ripping through flesh. And the skull suggests very powerful biting muscles, thus the “giant bite” in the title of the research paper, which appears in the journal Nature.
At over 50 feet in length, Leviathan probably ate anything it wanted to, but other whales — the toothless kind — were probably its main prey.
Lambert says scientists had found big teeth like these before and suspected a toothy, predatory whale once existed, but skeletal evidence had been elusive. “We were just amazed by this specimen,” he says. “It was a very exciting moment because we knew about the existence of very large sperm whales, but no skeleton had been found.”
Now that it has — at least the jaws and teeth — it’s clearer than ever that the ocean 13 million years ago was a hopping place, and Leviathan would not have been alone.
“You have the ancestors of the killer whales,” Lambert says. “And we could imagine that there was some competition between the two groups.”
And they would have been in competition with Megalodon, the biggest shark that ever lived. Leviathan would have been the heavyweight in this crowd of top predators.’
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No doubt you are wondering where I am going with this. Well, actually I tried hard to find a way to tie this in with CrossFit or fitness or strength and conditioning or health or something, but I came up blank. Completely flummoxed. But wow, I thought the story was just way too cool not to share. Huge predatory whales, with massive teeth, once cruised the oceans eating anything they wanted while competing with giant orcas and 60 foot sharks! For some reason that’s just really exciting and it gets my imagination going. Maybe it is our proximity to the ocean, and a pretty large and tumultuous ocean at that. Nothing peaceful about the Pacific other than its name. If you live by the ocean, it is never far from your subconscious.
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