11-20-2011Whales in the desert: Fossil bonanza poses mystery
Whales in the desert: Fossil bonanza poses mystery
SANTIAGO, Chile — More than 2 million years ago, scores of whales congregating off the Pacific Coast of South America mysteriously met their end.
Maybe they became disoriented and beached themselves. Maybe they were trapped in a lagoon by a landslide or a storm. Maybe they died there over a period of a few millennia. But somehow, they ended up right next to one another, many just meters (yards) apart, entombed as the shallow sea floor was driven upward by geological forces and transformed into the driest place on the planet.
Today, they have emerged again atop a desert hill more than a kilometer (half a mile) from the surf, where researchers have begun to unearth one of the world's best-preserved graveyards of prehistoric whales.
Chilean scientists together with researchers from the Smithsonian Institution are studying how these whales, many of the them the size of buses, wound up in the same corner of the Atacama Desert.