It has the mouth of a shark, but it is indeed a whale -- and it's been extinct for 12 million years. Scientists have discovered the fossils of this ancient whale that apparently liked to dine on fellow whales by ripping giant bites of flesh from them.
The prehistoric sperm whale wasn't unusually long -- up to 60 feet, which is not uncommon by today's standards. But it was what it sported under the hood that has whale-lovers buzzing. Unlike modern sperm whales, this one came equipped with vicious, tusk-like teeth some 14 inches long.
According to a report in the journal Nature, researchers found the skull of the great beast in a desert in Peru.
Fittingly, they've named it Leviathan melvillei, after "Moby Dick" author Herman Melville. The classic tale of the great white whale includes frequent digressions on natural history.
"There is a chapter about fossils," one of the paper's authors, Olivier Lambert of the Natural History Museum in Paris, said. "Melville even mentions some of the fossils that I studied for my PhD thesis."
Anthony Friscia, a paleontologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who wasn't involved in the discovery, said scattered finds of huge fossilized teeth had suggested that such a beast existed at some point. But without a skull to fit them in, the creature's shape, size and feeding habits remained a mystery.
"The fact that they have found the entire jaw -- well, almost the entire skull -- is what's pretty unprecedented," Friscia said, adding they "were the killer whales of their time, although on a much grander scale. They were close to the biggest things around."