A killer sperm whale tooth that’s about five million years old has been discovered on an Australian beach, providing the first evidence of the now extinct mammal outside the Americas. The 12-inch fossilized tooth, which is larger than that of a Tyrannosaurus rex, was found by a fossil enthusiast at Beaumaris Bay near Melbourne in February.
Within minutes he was on the phone to the Melbourne Museum, which confirmed the 30-centimetre fossil was the biggest killer sperm whale tooth of its kind in the country, according to the Daily Mail. “After I found the tooth I just sat down and stared at it in disbelief,” Murray Orr said after the killer sperm whale find was announced on Thursday by Museum Victoria, to whom he has donated the tooth. “I knew this was an important find that needed to be shared with everyone.”
Museum Victoria said the unique fossil belonged to an extinct species of “killer sperm whale” which would have measured up to 60 feet in length and weighed some 40 tons. It is the only example ever found outside the Americas, it added.
“Until this find at Beaumaris all fossils of giant killer sperm whales were found on the west coast of South and North America,” Erich Fitzgerald, a paleontologist at the museum, the National Post noted.
The museum said the killer sperm whale tooth, which dates from the Pliocene epoch of some five million years ago, was not only larger than those of a living sperm whale but also of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Unlike today’s killer sperm whales, which eat a diet of squid and fish, their extinct relatives are thought to have used their bone-crushing teeth to prey on much larger animals, including fellow whales, the Herald Sun Melbourne reported.
“If we only had today’s deep-diving, squid-sucking sperm whales to go on, we could not predict that just five million years ago there were giant predatory sperm whales with immense teeth that hunted other whales,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.
“Most sperm whales for the past 20 million years have been of the whale-killing kind. So, the fossil record reveals the living species to in fact be the exception to the rule, the oddball of the sperm whale family.”
Fitzgerald said the killer sperm whale tooth discovery, at Beaumaris Bay, was one of Australia’s premier fossil sites, providing insights into the history of the continent’s marine megafauna.
The beach around Beaumaris is regarded as a world-class fossil site, helping historians unlock Australia’s prehistoric past. Earth Touch said Orr has officially handed the killer sperm whale tooth to the Melbourne Museum, which will put the item on display.