Summon the Basilosaurus!
Paleontologist Philip Gingerich looks for sea monsters in the Egyptian desert. He assembles fossils of ancient whales that died there when it was covered by an ocean. One such whale is the Basilosaurus, which had small hind legs.
“Complete specimens like that Basilosaurus are Rosetta stones,” Gingerich told me as we drove back to his field camp. “They tell us vastly more about how the animal lived than fragmentary remains.”
Wadi Hitan—literally “valley of whales”—has proved phenomenally rich in such Rosetta stones. Over the past 27 years Gingerich and his colleagues have located the remains of more than a thousand whales here, and countless more are left to be discovered.
Researchers hope that whale fossils can help them understand how a land mammal evolved into an aquatic form that became our modern whales.
(Image credit: Richard Barnes/National Geographic)