Whale Valley, also called Wadi Al-Hitan, has important fossils of the oldest kind of whales that lived in the past. The fossils show that whales changed from mammals that lived on land to mammals that lived in the ocean. This was a big change in Earth’s history. During a new dig at Wadi Al-Hitan in Egypt, a natural World Heritage site, the only fossil of an early whale that is still in one piece has been found. The find shows for the first time that the creature has a full skeleton.
Wadi Al-Hitan Whale Valley, includes:
It also shows that it had fossilised remains of other sea creatures in its stomach. A lot of fossilised whales were found at the new dig site. The 18-meter-long Basilosaurus is thought to be the only fully complete fossil of its kind that has been found so far. Its complete skeleton shows for the first time that it had spines on its tail. Sea creatures’ bones were also found inside the whale, right where the stomach would have been.
Some of these are crabs, sawfish, and a small whale that the Basilosaurus ate. Several sets of shark teeth next to the fossilised structure show that the whale was eaten after it died and show how many sharks there were at the time. After walking whales, the Basilosaurus is the first whale species that seems to have lived only in the water.
Wadi Al-Hitan is located behind a mountain called Garet Gohannam, which means “the Mountain of Hell.” With the sun going down, the mountain seems to be on fire with a strange red light. This is a faraway valley in Egypt’s western desert. The valley is about 150 kilometres southwest of Cairo. It is near the Al-Katrani mountain range, which is a well-known and important geological site because of its rare fossils of vertebrates and large fossils.
The Whale Valley, which is also called Zeuglodon Valley, is in the Wadi El-Rayan Protected Area (WRPA). It is about 80 km from Fayoum City. The WRPA was made in 1989. It is near a group of natural hot springs and two lakes that were created in the 1970s by channelling excess agricultural water from Lake Karun (Qarun). There is a lot of evidence that the Wadi Hitan basin was underwater about 40 million to 50 million years ago.
At that time, what is now called the Mediterranean did not reach as far south as what is now called the Tethys Sea. It is thought that the Tethys Sea moved north and left behind thick layers of sandstone and limestone, which can be seen in the rock formations of Wadi Hitan.
Today, the area is full of excavation sites where whales, sharks, petrified mangrove bushes, fossil plants, and other things from the ancient sea have been found. Corals that have turned to stone, shark teeth, and fossils can be found all over the valley. The valley is in the middle of a beautiful and unique desert landscape made up of sand dunes, hills, and rock platforms that have been worn down by the wind.
Ancient Whale Fossils
Hundreds of fossil skeletons that have been buried for thousands of years and were stuck in sandstone formations of an ancient sea are now being uncovered by the wind and by archaeological work. Most of the fossils that have been found are from ancient whales that are no longer alive, like the Zeuglodon or Basilosaurus.
Still, no one knows for sure why there are so many fossils of this type of ancient whale there. This unique valley is also known for its many different kinds of desert plants, reptiles, migratory birds, and wild mammals like the white deer, Egyptian deer, fennec fox, red fox, and many others. Whale fossils are very old, and there are a lot of them.
This shows that whales changed from being animals that lived on land to ones that lived in the water. Over the years, a lot of whale fossils have been found. The site has the remains of more than 390 whales from five different species. The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) is now in charge of Wadi Al-Hitan as a protected area. It is also being turned into a national park through a joint Italian-Egyptian programme.
Whale Valley was also added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 because of its unique beauty and scientific importance. This was a big step towards protecting it. Since the 1800s, geological studies have been done in the area. Around 1830, the first Basilosaurus bones were found, but they were never taken away because the site was hard to get to at the time.
Valley of the Whales Egypt
At first, people thought it was a big sea animal, so they called it the Basilosaurus, which means “King Lizard.” Later, the animals were found to be whales, which at one time were able to move easily between land and sea. The whale valley and the fossils at Wadi Hitan show clearly the shapes and ways of life during that transitional period. They tell one of the most important stories of mammal evolution: how the whale went from being a land animal to an ocean animal.
Scientists working under the direction of D. Gingerich discovered in 1989 that whales still had useless feet, toes, and legs that resembled their lost back legs. Many of the whale skeletons are in good shape because the rocks have kept them in good shape. There are skeletons in the valley that are only half done, and in some cases, the stomach contents are still there.
Even though this area has been studied for more than 100 years, no full restoration of a Basilosaurus has ever been done. A complete 18-meter-long whale skeleton was just found, and this is now no longer the case. In April 2005, D. Gingerich and his colleagues at the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency announced that they had found the first complete and well-preserved skeleton of a Basilosaurus, a whale that looked like a big sea snake.
The fossil, which is 40 million years old, will be taken to Michigan, where it will be studied and kept safe. After that, it will be sent back to Egypt, where it will be shown to the public. This find could help explain why there are so many fossils of Basilosaurus in the valley. It could also help explain how the whale moved through the water and how land animals turned into ocean mammals.
Over the years, researchers have found that the excavated skeletons show evidence of the last stages of evolution from land animals to marine animals: the loss of the back limbs and a change to the typical body shape of modern whales, while keeping some primitive parts of the skull and tooth structure. The National Geographic Society and the University of Michigan are paying for fieldwork and research in the whale valley of Wadi Hitan.
When you look at Fayoum as a whole, it has some of the world’s most interesting geological sites. Important scientific discoveries will keep being made at these places, which will turn some of them into open-air geological museums. Along with the southern part of Sinai, the WRPA has a total area of 1,759 square kilometres. It has some of the most visitors of any protected area in Egypt, with about 150,000 people going there each year.