Peru tourists have whale of a time

23rd Sep 2013

Holidaymakers on group tours to Peru have always enjoyed a whale of a time.

But palaeontologists now believe this trend literally goes back tens of millions of years following their latest discovery.

They found the 40 million-year-old fossil of a "walking whale" in the vast Ocucaje Desert south of the country.

The whale, which has legs similar to its land-based ancestors, could establish the link between how today's sea mammals evolved from amphibious to aquatic beings.

Ocucaje Desert is famous for being a rich mine of ancient marine discovery.

Palaeontology and geology fans on specialist tours are drawn here by its fossil tour of Huacachina village in the Ica region of Peru.

The desert boasts the world's biggest exposed oceanic fossil deposit.

It ranks alongside Lake Titicaca, the Nazca Lines and the cultural sites of Machu Picchu as "must-see" attractions in Peru.

The whale discovery is the first time such an old sea mammal has been discovered in South America.

Fossilised remains of more than 15 of the majestic marine mammals have been found in this desert.

The Ocucaje lies 310 kilometres (190 miles) south of the capital Lima, a bustling metropolis, which is a great favourite among tourists on city breaks in South America.

Cesar Chacaltana, who leads a team during a tour of the site, thinks there is probably even more fossils in the sand.

But it takes state-of-the-art technology to find and recover them.

It is believed the whales' bodies were preserved by the small amount of oxygen in the substrate, which delayed bacteria-fuelled decay.

Specialists found the skeleton of a minke whale, thought to be 3.6 million years old, in February last year.

This is a species only found in Peru.

Mr Chacaltana calculates that the creature weighed around 500 kilograms (1,100lbs) and measured six metres (19ft 8in) in length.

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