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Leviathan (Livyatan)



Leviathan (C. Letenneur)


Leviathan (after the giant monster of the Bible); pronounced leh-VIE-ah-than; later renamed Livyatan


Shores of South America

Historical Epoch:

Middle Miocene (13-12 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 50 feet long and 25-50 tons


Large marine creatures

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; long skull with numerous teeth


About Leviathan (Livyatan):

The name has been available for hundreds of years, so it's a bit surprising that "Leviathan" has wound up being assigned not to a giant sauropod or tyrannosaur of the Mesozoic Era, but to a prehistoric sperm whale dating to the middle Miocene epoch. The 10-foot-long, tooth-studded skull of this gigantic whale (full name: Leviathan melvillei, after Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick) was discovered off the coast of Peru in 2008, and it hints at a merciless, 50-foot-long predator that likely feasted on smaller whales. (Recently, the name of this prehistoric whale was changed to the Hebrew Livyatan, since it turned out that "Leviathan" had already been used for a species of Mastodon.)

As big as it was, Leviathan (or Livyatan) wasn't quite as enormous as Basilosaurus, another genus of prehistoric whale that lived about 20 million years earlier--but it does seem to have been about the same size as the giant prehistoric shark Megalodon, which occupied roughly the same marine territory during the same time period. No doubt, TV producers are already hard at work creating computer simulations of dramatically gory Leviathan/Megalodon encounters; in the meantime, you can read our analysis, Megalodon vs. Leviathan - Who Wins? (By the way, Megalodon--Greek for "giant tooth"--may have had nothing on Leviathan, some teeth of which measured a full foot long.)


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