‘God of Death’ Whale Was Scourge of Land and Sea 43 Million Years Ago

The prehistoric mammal possessed a powerful jaw and likely had a raptor-like feeding style

Phiomicetus anubis
Though considered a whale, Phiomicetus anubis had legs with webbed feet to pursue prey on both land and sea with its powerful jaws and sharp teeth 43 million years ago. Abdullah Gohar

A 43-million-year-old fossil of prehistoric whale with four legs and very sharp teeth has been found in the Egyptian desert. Named after Anubis the god of death, this previously unknown amphibious species was about ten feet long with an impressive jaw that indicates a raptor-like feeding style, according to a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“We discovered how fierce and deadly its powerful jaws are capable of tearing a wide range of prey ... this whale was a god of death to most of the animals that lived in its area,” lead author Abdullah Gohar, a Cetacean paleobiologist at Mansoura University in Egypt, tells Matthew Low of Insider.

Scientists officially named it Phiomicetus anubis—a nod to Anubis, the jackal-headed god of ancient Egypt who accompanied dead pharaohs into the afterlife.

The partial skeleton was discovered in the Fayum Depression of Egypt’s Western Desert, which is part of the Sahara. Once covered by sea, the UNESCO World Heritage site is also known as Whale Valley because of all the marine mammalian fossils found there.

According to the research team, this species likely walked on land as well as swam in the ocean during the middle Eocene Epoch. Whales were once “herbivorous, deer-like terrestrial mammals” for about 10 million years before evolving into carnivorous creatures of the deep, reports Deepa Shivaram of NPR.

Weighing about 1,300 pounds, Phiomicetus anubis was probably an apex predator, similar to killer whales. Looking like a large dog with a powerful mandible and sharp teeth, it also had legs with webbed feet that allowed it to pursue prey on both land and sea. Its discovery helps scientists piece together the evolution of whales, which are thought to have first appeared about 50 million years ago.

Phiomicetus anubis is a key new whale species, and a critical discovery for Egyptian and African paleontology,” Gohar tells Mahmoud Mourad of Reuters.

While not the first whale with legs to be found, it is thought to be the earliest semi-aquatic species located in Africa. In 2011, paleontologists in Peru discovered a whale fossil with four legs, hooves and webbed feet, reports BBC News.

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