Would you be surprised to find a whale in a desert? Would your answer be the same if the whale you found was the fossilized remains of an animal that died millions of years ago?
These remains can still be found today in the Valley of the Whales (Wadi Hitan), in Egypt. This site is now a protected area, as a World Heritage site (UNESCO). This area of the Sahara Desert was underwater millions of years ago, before the Sarah was formed. As the earth's plates moved over time, the northern part of Africa was forced upward, pushing the water from this area into a smaller Mediteranean Sea.
The two images are from the touregypt website. The first shows the valley and the second shows a close-up of one of the skeletons found.
The remains of whales that died in the water fell to the sea floor where they became embedded in the silt and fossilized over time. As more time passed, the fossils were covered over with sand as the Sarah formed. This protected them from the effects of time and weather, so they are well-preserved today. To learn about whales that are not well-preserved, see my past post about whale falls.
These fossils are a significant find. They offer one of the few places on earth to find whale fossils, as most are underwater and decay, not fossilize. These fossils can be used to study whale anatomy as well as whale evolution.
Hundreds of skeletons have been found in this valley since the first discovery in 1902. This video offers a great view of the site today:
I would love to visit Egypt. Now I know that when I do, it isn't just a historical exploration - there is plenty of science to explore wherever I may roam :)
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