Prehistoric Whale Ate Other Whales For Breakfast

Rarely do scientists get to publish a research paper that begins with the words “The Giant Bite.” On Wednesday, 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 says he’s read that book — several times…

…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…

Read the entire article here at NPR.

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