A fossil whale is a spectacular sight and the specimens collected from the Pisco Formation in Peru are some of the finest in the world. But what is so exciting about on new fossil? Well this one has provided a unique insight into this ancient ecosystem. The fossil skull of Messapicetus is surrounded by at least 40 fish skeletons and there are more fossil fish in the mouth, throat and gut cavities. So is this some chance accumulation? Well maybe not. The spread of the fish fossils looks like the whale ate them and then vomited its last meal up as it died. In fact the author's of the study suggest that this last meal might have been the cause of death. Productive shallow coastal waters often lead to conditions that are ideal for algal blooms, some of which can produce significant levels of toxins (paralytic shellfish poisoning is one form). Had the whales fish supper been feeding on crustaceans contaminated with an algal toxin, then the whale would have ingested a large dose of a lethal poison.
Spread along the southwestern coast of Peru, the 9.9 to 8.9 million year old rock of the Pisco Formation has yielded some stunning fossils. Paleontologists working there have found the bones of enormous predatory whales, delicately-preserved shark jaws, and sea turtles, just to name a few highlights. But even those finds pale in comparison to a real rarity that was announced just last month: prehistoric whale vomit.