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Perucetus Colossus

Last year, scientists in Peru announced they had discovered the world’s heaviest animal. Dubbed Perucetus Colossus or P. Colossus, for short, this ancient whale with a bloated body, small head and small fins, was estimated to tip the scales at a resounding 700,000 pounds. That’s larger than the largest animal up to that point—the Blue Whale—which can weigh up to 540,000 pounds.

The unusual fossils of P. Colossus believed to be nearly 40 million years old, were discovered in a desert in Peru. Whereas bones are normally spongy-looking, these fossils appeared dense and inflated, leading scientists to debate whether these were bones or rocks. It was determined they were, in fact, bones—vertebra bones, to be exact, each of which weighed at least 220 pounds. They also found ribs measuring nearly five feet across. All told, they found 13 vertebrae, four ribs, and part of a hip.

Using projections, it was estimated that this was the heaviest animal ever to have lived.

Headlines abounded, mentioning the size of this silly-looking beast.

skeleton, paleontology, Perucetus Colossus

Projected skeletal image of Perucetus Colossus


However, in late February 2024, scientists changed their tune. It turns out the estimates were off, and this chonky gal was merely big-boned, literally.

The new estimates put P. Colossus at 60 to 70 tons at 17 meters long and 98 to 114 tons at 20 meters long. It is still quite heavy, maxing out at 228,000 pounds, but not nearly as heavy as the blue whale, which maxes out at approximately 540,000 pounds or 270 tons.

Perucetus Colossus, Blue Whale, prehistoric fossils

P. Colossus as compared to a blue whale and a human

Cullen Townsend/Cullen Townsend (used with permission)

So what happened? Here’s some sciency language from the new study, “Downsizing a heavyweight: factors and methods that revise weight estimates of the giant fossil whale Perucetus Colossus."

“[The scientists who said P. Colossus was the heaviest animal] based their estimates on a new method, in which they first estimated the total skeletal mass of Perucetus through extrapolation from the skeletal material and then used the value to secondarily extrapolate its body mass, assuming skeletal to body mass ratios based on extant cetaceans and sirenians. A simple ratio mandates an isometric relationship between body and skeletal masses, and they justified this step by testing for isometry using a phylogenetically controlled regression.”

Ah yes, how many times a phylogenetically controlled regression has come around to bite us on the butt.

Translation: It’s understandable, sort of, why they used the wrong equation, but make no mistake—they used the wrong equation. And now, some science shade from the same paper:

“Their method involves questionable assumptions that suggest their body mass estimates are not reasonable…”

“It is important to note that the overall size estimate of Perucetus has remained the same,” Cullen Townsend told Upworthy. Townsend is an artist who renders prehistoric animals for the Natural History Museum Los Angeles, among others, and who created a corrected rendering to accompany the new paper.

Says Townsend: “What is now being debated is how heavy the animal potentially was. Our understanding of prehistoric animals is filled with holes and can change drastically with a new discovery or research. It is not surprising that scientists are coming to new conclusions. Our depictions of nearly every prehistoric animal have changed over time to better correspond with advancements in paleontology and our interpretation of the fossil record. Our current understanding of Perucetus is no different and will likely change again in the not-too-distant future. It is the nature of this field.”

So no "Real Scientists" reality show coming to cable TV anytime soon?

Or "Biggest Loser, Animal Style"? (P. Colossus wins, obviously)

The NatureWasMetal Reddit group saw this coming:

“Of course, Perucetus was going to be downsized… I’m never going to trust this sort of claim again, I felt like it couldn’t be true,” said Kaam00s.

“All my hopes and dreams shattered… I lived for that chonky whale man,” said Grouper3.

But Time-Accident3809 pointed out the silver lining:

“We are so lucky to coexist with the largest known animal to have ever lived. Now here’s hoping we don’t [mess] that up as well.”

"Oh my God, I'm in the mouth of a whale."

Those aren't the words commercial lobster diver Michael Packard expected to go through his head on Friday—or any day—but that's what he thought when he found himself swallowed whole by a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.

Packard dives to the bottom of the ocean every day to collect lobsters, but he's never had an encounter like this one before. When he was about 45 feet down, he suddenly found himself enveloped in darkness. He told NBC 10 Boston it hit him like a truck, and for 30 seconds he was trapped inside a humpback whale's mouth. His scuba regulator fell out of his mouth, which caused extra concern momentarily, but he was able to retrieve it. However, during the ordeal, he was sure he was going to die.

"I just was struggling, but I knew this was this massive creature. There was no way I was going to bust myself out of there," Packard said. He thought of his two sons, ages 12 and 16, his wife, and his mother, believing he was going to die inside a whale and leave them all behind.

However, the whale thankfully decided that it did not actually want to have a human dessert, swam to the surface, and spit Packard out. "All of a sudden he went up to the surface and just erupted, and just started shaking his head, and I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water, and I was free."

It's the kind of story that seems too far-fetched to be believed. But Packard's crewmate, Josiah Mayo, was driving the boat and witnessed Packard's release from the whale's mouth.

"It was just a huge splash and kind of thrashing around," Mayo to NBC 10 Boston. "I saw Michael kind of pop up within the mess and the whale disappeared."

Lobster diver survives after nearly being eaten by humpback whalewww.youtube.com

Dr. Iain Kerr is a marine biologist at The Ocean Alliance and has been studying whales for more than 30 years. He told CBC This Morning that this is the second time he's heard of something like this happening.

In fact, in 2019, wildlife photographer Rainer Schimpf found himself with his head and torso inside a 15-ton whale's mouth off the coast of South Africa, missing a story like Packard's by a mere few feet. That incident was caught on camera.

Both incidents were quite clearly accidents. In general, whales are not aggressive to humans and certainly don't want them as food.

"Basically, he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Kerr said of Packard's adventure. "I think he was very lucky. It could have been a nasty situation. But I am sure the whale was almost as freaked out as Michael was.

Packard was examined at Cape Cod Hospital, having sustained some soft tissue damage but no broken bones or serious injury. He says as soon as he is healed, he'll be back in the water catching lobster again.

And he'll definitely have one heck of a tale to tell the rest of his life.

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

Most whale and dolphin babies nudge the mammary slit to expose the nipple, allowing them to "suckle." A sperm whale baby's head and mouth aren't really designed for suckling in the traditional sense, obviously, as its massive nose protrudes over its much smaller lower jaw. But even in the whale sense of mom shooting milk into a baby's mouth, it's been unclear how it works for sperm whales due to their oddly shaped heads. Photos and observations have led researchers to believe that the mother whale expresses milk into the water for the baby to ingests outside of her body, but the real mechanics haven't been clearly understood.

With the proliferation of underwater photography and filmography, it may seem strange that we don't have more nursing whale evidence to examine, but because baby whales can't breathe and nurse at the same time, nursing events are usually quite short. Even being in the right place at the right time to observe a whale nursing is rare, much less capturing it on film.

A new four-part documentary series from National Geographic has provided, for the first time, film footage of a sperm whale baby nursing. It shows how the baby actually inserting its lower jaw into the mother's mammary slit, and the milk—which contains ten times more fat than human milk and is the consistency of yogurt—shooting directly into the baby whale's mouth.

Sperm Whale Suckles | National Geographicwww.youtube.com

The documentary series containing this footage, "Secrets of the Whales," was conceived of by National Geographic Explorer and photographer Brian Skerry and follows the stories of five different whale species—narwhals, humpbacks, belugas, sperm whales, and orcas. It was filmed in 24 locations around the world and took three years to make. Produced by award-winning filmmaker and conservationist James Cameron (of "Titanic" and "Avatar" fame) and narrated by award-winning actress and conservationist Sigourney Weaver, the series is sure to please whale lovers and nature lovers alike.

In addition to sperm whale babies breastfeeding, the docuseries shows how beluga whales name themselves so groups can keep track of each other, how baby belugas share their moms' call signs, how 30,000 humpbacks travel together from Australia to Antarctica and use breeches to talk to each other, and how a beluga pod adopted a narwhal into their bod—apparently the first ever cross-species adoption ever recorded.

Executive Producer James Cameron called the series a "challenging, daunting project" in a SXSW Conference panel last month."It's also so important for people to understand and for this film to illuminate how these creatures think, how they feel, what their emotion is like, what their society is like," he said, "because we won't protect what we don't love."

The series premiers on streaming service Disney+ on Earth Day, April 22.

Secrets of the Whales | Official Trailer | Disney+www.youtube.com

The filmmakers hope that by sharing with people the unique identities of the whales they followed, they can inspire people to think about how these magnificent mammals can be better protected.

"It's inescapable that they're being poisoned by us, that they're being deafened by us, or their behaviors, all of their feeding strategies and mating strategies and reproductive strategies are being dismantled by all of this noise from shipping channels and military sonars and all that," Cameron said. "They're going to continue to decline. The right whales are down to about 300…We barely understand these animals, so I think we have to, as a society, we have to think about doing it better."

Indeed we do.

via The Guardian / YouTube

Beluga whales are affectionately known as sea canaries for their song-like vocalizations, and their name is the Russian word for "white."

They are sociable animals that live, hunt, and migrate together in pods, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales. However, they are naturally reticent to interact with humans, although some solitary belugas are known to approach boats.

Once such beluga that's believed to live in Norwegian waters is so comfortable among humans that it played fetch with a rugby ball.

It's believed that the researchers in the video are on a South African vessel known as the Dinah Explorer. The video first appeared on Facebook where the poster was certain the researchers are South Africans celebrating their team's 2019 Rugby World Cup victory.

"Beluga Whale celebrating the Springboks victory somewhere close to the South Pole," Kowen wrote in the caption to the Facebook post. "Spot the Cape Town build Gemini Craft and the South African accents."

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Some believe the whale could be the same one that caught the public's attention earlier this year for harassing Norwegian fisherman. The whale was wearing a harness that read "Equipment St. Petersburg" so many thought it was, at some point, trained by the Russian military. The harness has since been removed.

The whale went viral for fetching a phone that was dropped in the water by an eager fan.

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"We laid down on the dock to look at it and hopefully get the chance to pat it," Ina Mansika told The Dodo. "I had forgotten to close my jacket pocket and my phone fell in the ocean. We assumed it would be gone forever, until the whale dove back down and came back a few moments later with my phone in its mouth!"

The whale returned the phone, but sadly it was no longer functional after falling into the frigid water.