75 prehistoric whales found in Chilean desert

75 prehistoric whales found in Chilean desertAP

Chile's Paleontological Museum of Caldera have released images of whale fossils embedded in the Atacama Desert near Copiapo, Chile, that they are dubbing 'one of the world's best-preserved graveyards of prehistoric whales'.

More than two million years ago, scores of whales congregating off the Pacific Coast of South America mysteriously met their end.

Experts are unsure whether they became disoriented and beached themselves; whether they were trapped in a lagoon by a landslide or a ferocious storm; or whether they died there over a period of a few millennia.

But, somehow, the 75 whales ended up right next to one another, many just several yards apart, entombed over the ages as the shallow sea floor was driven upward by geologic forces and transformed into the driest place on the planet.

75 prehistoric whales found in Chilean desertAP

The amazing find was unearthed in June 2010 during a highway-widening project. An area the size of two football fields is home to at least 75 whales, some the size of buses, and more than 20 fully intact skeletons.

Experts believe there could be hundreds more waiting to be discovered.

Nicholas Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, told the Associated Press that the area was once a 'lagoon-like environment', adding that he believed they all died 'more or less at the same time'.

With funding from the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian team are using high-tech photography and laser scanners to take 3D images of the whales that can later be used to make life-sized models of them.

Pyenson has said he hopes a museum will be build to show off the intact skeletons where they lie, similar to the way fossils are displayed at the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado.

According to the Daily Mail, other creatures to have been found at the site include a now-extinct dolphin that had two walrus-style tusks, while strange creatures found in the Atacama Desert include an extinct aquatic sloth and a seabird boasting a five-metre wingspan.

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