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Fossil from "tiny" whale, 41 million years old, discovered in Egypt

Paleontologists in Egypt found the fossil of one of the smallest extinct whales. The announcement comes just a week after scientists said they had found a species of ancient whale that might be the heaviest animal ever found.

The "tiny" fossil, dug up in Wadi el-Hitan, or Whale Valley, belongs to a whale that lived around 41 million years ago, scientists said in a study published Thursday in the journal Communications Biology. It's estimated to have been around 8 feet long and weighed about 412 pounds.

The newly discovered Tutcetus rayanensis, named for King Tut, is a basilosaurid, an extinct family of fully aquatic whale. Basilosauridae lived at the time when whales transitioned from land to sea. The family of whale had strong tails and flippers, but they also had hind limbs similar to legs. 

"Whales' evolution from land-dwelling animals to beautiful marine creatures embodies the marvelous adventurous journey of life," Hesham Sallam, a professor of vertebrate paleontology at the American University in Cairo and the leader of the project, said in a news release. "Tutcetus is a remarkable discovery that documents one of the first phases of the transition to a fully aquatic lifestyle that took place in that journey."

From left, Egyptian paleontologists Abdullah Gohar, Mohamed Sameh and Hesham Sallam next to the holotype fossils of the newly identified basilosaurid whale, Tutcetus rayanensis. Hesham Sallam - Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology Center

Prehistoric land-roaming whales were relatively small. Scientists said in the study that they believe Tutcetus' small size is either a primitive retention or related to global warming during the time period. 

The discovery includes a skull, jaws, hyoid bone and vertebra pieces. They were embedded in a limestone block. 

Scientists scanned the whale's teeth and bones to reconstruct the growth and development of the species. They believe the species was relatively mature from birth. It's possible the whale lived a relatively short life.

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