In Photos: A new 41-million-year-old species of extinct whale unearthed in Egypt

Zeinab El-Gundy , Friday 11 Aug 2023

Renowned Egyptian palaeontologist Hesham Sallam announced Thursday that a team including Egyptian researchers from Mansoura University and international scientists unearthed a new species of an extinct whale in Fayoum, Egypt, which they called Tutcetus rayanensis.

The founder of Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology Center (MUVP) and Professor of vertebrate palaeontology at The American University in Cairo (AUC) Dr Hesham Sallam on the right along with Egyptian researchers Mohamed Sameh (in the middle) and Abdullah Gohar on the left and in front of them the fossils of Tutcetus rayanensis extinct whale, Photo : Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research


Sallam, the founder of Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology Centre (MUVP) and Professor of vertebrate palaeontology at the American University in Cairo (AUC), announced on Thursday that the whale lived 41 million years ago at Fayoum’s Wadi El-Hitan or Valley of the Whales, which had then been a part of an ancient sea that covered massive parts of Egypt and the Western desert.

He added that the new whale belongs to the family of Basilosaurids, a group of extinct whale ancestors representing the first stages of complete aquatic life for whales after they transitioned from land to water.

A reconstruction of “Tutcetus rayanensis”  by Egyptian researcher Ahmed Morsi released by the University of Mansoura.

The new whale's name is a blend of Egyptian history and the place where it was found.

 The first part of the name, Tutcetus, combines "Tut" from the renowned young Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun and "Cetus," the Greek word for whale. 

The second part of the name, rayanensis, is a nod to the Wadi El-Rayan Protected Area in Fayoum, where the whale was discovered.

Moreover, the name was chosen to honour the hundredth anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb and aligns with the upcoming opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza.

The unearthed specimen consists of a skull, jaws, hyoid bone and the vertebra of a small-sized basilosaurid whale embedded in a compacted limestone block.

With an estimated length of 2.5 metres and a body weighing approximately 187 kilograms, Tutcetus is the smallest known basilosaurid to date. 

Dr Sherif Khater, the President of Mansoura University, pointed out that the research team documented the discovery in a research paper published on 10 August in the scientific journal "Communications Biology" issued by Nature Magazine.

Professor Hesham Sallam and Mansoura University officials. Photo: Mansoura University.

Khater added that this research paper represents a scientific breakthrough for Egyptian palaeontologists and the second study of its kind in which an Egyptian team leads the description and naming of a new genus and species of whales.

The announced discovery is the latest by the MUVP and its founder.

In 2021, the team announced the discovery of a 43-million-year-old semiaquatic whale.

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