Photo: Cerro Ballena
The origins of a massive prehistoric whale gravesite, discovered in the Chilean desert in 2010, has now been explained by a team of scientists.
The whale graveyard was unearthed by a construction crew working on the Pan American Highway in the Atacama desert some 44 miles north of the capital city of Santiago. It has been the home to a team of scientists, funded by the National Geographic Society, for several years. They have been trying to undercover the mystery of what happened.
How did marine mammals found in the Pacific Ocean die en masse and then emerge atop of a desert hill in the Atacama desert?
The “Cerro Ballena” as the site is known contains the five-to-eleven million-year-old skeletons of various marine mammals that include sperm whales, walrus toothed whales and seals.
Cerro Ballena is one of the largest collections of marine fossils ever found en masse.
Thus far 40 skeletons, identified as being from the Miocene Epoch (23-to-5 million years ago), have been preserved and cataloged through a 3-D archival system. It is thought there are hundreds of other whale and large marine mammal skeletons to be unearthed at the Cerro Ballena location.
Marine mammals were well established during the Miocene Epoch. It is now believed a poisonous toxin from algae fueled by iron ore run-off from the nearby Andes, killed the marine mammals. The high concentration of algae reportedly caused organ failure and eventual death in the marine mammals.
The dead carcasses probably sank belly up to the bottom of the ocean and were covered by layers of fossils over millions of years. The site is located half a mile from the Pacific Ocean.
Through evolution of time the ocean bed dried up and eventually became part of the Atacama Desert. The desert is believed to be one of the oldest deserts on earth.
The prehistoric whale graveyard findings have been published in the Royal Society Journal.