How did more than 80 whales, many of them the size of buses get trapped within yards of each other, in a corner of Chile's Atacama AKA the world's driest desert? That is the question on the mind of every scientist embarking on the investigation of what is being touted as the discovery of the world's biggest and best-preserved graveyard of pre-historic whales, believed to be between 2 million to 7 million years old.
While most of the fossils belong to Baleen whales, the paleontologists have also found remains of a Sperm whale and even those of a now extinct dolphin that used to have two walrus-like teeth.
The fact that all the fossils are confined to a strip that is about 260 meters long and 20 meters wide, is leading scientists to believe that once upon a time the area used to be a lagoon and that maybe an earthquake or storm closed off all access to the sea, causing it to dry out, which led to the death of the whales. Other possibilities are that the mammals became disoriented and beached themselves or that the remains are not from one time period, but somehow accumulated in the same place, over a number of years.
While paleontologists do not know and may never be able to accurately identify the reason, one thing is for sure - This amazing find that includes 20 perfectly preserved skeletons will give experts a rare insight into the ecology of the area and evolution of the extinct species.
The best part is, that many experts believe this could just be the icing on the cake, and that many more whales and other prehistoric creatures are still waiting to be discovered. The fossils that have been unearthed are now on their way to a museum in Caldera, where they will be examined by a team of local scientists, as well as, researchers from the US-based Smithsonian.
Ironically, this amazing find was not a deliberate dig conducted by experts, but an accidental discovery that occurred when a local construction company was trying to widen the Pan-American highway - The main road that connects Northern and Southern Chile. Needless to say, that project is on hold until every last fossil is unearthed.
Resources: huffingtonpost.com, dailymail.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk