85,000-year-old whale skeleton discovered in Pingtung

A team composed of researchers from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) and the National Museum of Nature Science (NMNS) have dug up the 85,000-year-old fossilized remains of a whale in Pingtung County, NCKU said in a statement on Monday.

The excavation, conducted by a 16-member team led by NCKU earth sciences adjunct professor and NMNS assistant research fellow Yang Tzu-ruei (???), occurred on the Hengchun Peninsula over the summer, and was the second large mammal fossil found in Taiwan after the discovery in 1971 of rhino fossils in Tainan, the statement said.

The discovery of the whale skeleton could help scientists better understand how the whales have adapted to a changing environment from the Ice Age to the present, the statement said.

About 70 percent of the 15-meter long whale skeleton was recovered, with its scapula, maxilla and jaw, spine, and half of its skull in good shape, Yang said.

Judging from the scapula, the animal was likely a blue whale or a humpback whale living in the late Pleistocene period some 85,000 years ago, he said.

Both types of whales have beached in coastal areas around Taiwan, he said.

According to Chou Wen-po (???), a member of the team who studies at NCKU's Institute of Archaeology, several varieties of seashells, sharks and crabs have been buried beneath the soil in Hengchun's Tougou area.

Chou said he first visited the area with a fossil collector early this year, and it was when he came back in early May with Yang that they found four of the animal's ribs sticking out of the ground.

Taking advantage of the discovery was not easy, however, because of the challenging nature of the excavation, the statement said.

Its jaw, for example, measured 223 centimeters in length and weighed334 kg, and required 12 people to move it, it said.

The fossilized remains are now being stored at the NMNS, enabling scientists to clean and study the skeleton, with any future findings to be published in scientific journals, Yang said.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel