Egyptian scientists discovered a diminutive 41-million year old whale and named it after King Tut

A bottlenose dolphin pictured in the Moray Firth, Scotland.

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Egyptian paleontologists found a new, extinct whale species, about the size of a bottlenose dolphin.It is the smallest known whale of the extinct basilosaurids family, says the scientists’ new study.The species is named “Tutcetus rayanensis,” after King Tutankhamun, an ancient Egyptian Pharoah.  

To scientists’ delight, it’s the summer of the ancient whale, and a new, extinct species of a miniature one has been discovered in Egypt, according to research published Thursday.

Dubbed “Tutcetus rayanensis” by researchers, the species is the smallest known member of the extinct family Basilosauridae — a group of ancient, fully aquatic whales — according to a paper on the species’ discovery in Communications Biology.

The distinction between fully aquatic whales is made because not all ancient whales were fully aquatic — before the Basilosauridae, some whale ancestors walked, according to reporting from the Smithsonian.

It’s named in part “Tut” for the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun or “King Tut,” who died at 19, since researchers believe the specimen found had also not yet reached full maturity.

Basilosauridae are usually found in Egypt, according to the scientists’ findings, and the T. rayanensis was discovered roughly 25 miles from the Wadi El-Hitan World Heritage Site, which the findings say is “one of the world’s most productive fossil whale sites.”

“The discovery of the new basilosaurid whale, Tutcetus rayanensis, has brought about a substantial shift in our understanding of cetacean life histories during the Eocene epoch,” lead study author Mohammed S. Antar, a paleontologist at the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology Center in Egypt said over email to CNN.

Antar told CNN that the T. rayanensis may have “undergone faster developmental processes than previously believed, suggesting a diverse range of growth strategies within this group,” differentiating it from other members of its family.

From the incomplete fossil, according to the study, researchers determined the T. rayanensis is one of the oldest-yet discovered whale fossils across the globe — but another study author doesn’t think that will be true forever.

Erik R. Seiffert, a coauthor of the study and professor at the University of Southern California, said to CNN there’s a chance scientists will be able to discover even more ancient and fully-aquatic whales.

“Our phylogenetic analysis suggests that the transition to a fully aquatic lifestyle likely occurred a few million years earlier than the age of Tutcetus, but we do not yet have any fossil evidence that conclusively documents these predicted earlier forms,” Seiffert said in an email to CNN.

Antar and the MUVP did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment, sent outside regular business hours.

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