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The sea monster Leviathan - Prehistoric sperm whale

Leviathan

The Leviathan is a mythical sea monster or a dragon that is mentioned in the book of Job. Job 41 describes the Leviathan as a sea monster or a fire-breathing dragon. "The smoke flows from its nostrils" and its breath is so hot that he "fires the embers" with "the flames coming out of its mouth". According to Job, the Leviathan is so massive that it causes the waves of the sea.

Some scholars believe that the Leviathan is based on other similar legends of ancient peoples that came into contact with the Jews, such as the Lotan monster of the Canaanite Sea and the Babylonian sea goddess Tiamat.

The Leviathan in the Jewish legend

Ziz, Behemoth and Leviathan
Ziz, Behemoth and Leviathan

Just as the Behemoth is an invincible terrestrial monster and the Ziz is a giant of the airs, in the Jewish legend the Leviathan is depicted as a primordial sea monster that can not be defeated. Job 26 and Job 29 say that "the sword has no effect" and that "the rattling of the spear amuses it". According to legend, the Leviathan will be served as an entrance at the messianic banquet of Olam Ha Ba (the world to come). In this case, Olam Ha Ba is conceived as a kingdom of god that will exist after the coming of Messiah. The Talmud Baba Batra 75b states that the Archangels Michael and Gabriel will be the ones to kill the Leviathan. Other legends say that god will kill the sea monster, while another version of the story tells that Behemoth and Leviathan will face each other in a mortal battle at the end of time before being served at the banquet.

The Leviathan, the giant prehistoric sperm whale

Jewish legends are full of metaphors, but what many people do not know is that the Leviathan is a sea monster that lived in the Miocene era and is the ancestor of the modern sperm whale.

This sea monster is technically part of the physeteroids, a family of toothed whales whose existence spans 20 million years in the archives of evolution. The only physeteroids still extant today are the Pygmy Sperm Whale, the Dwarf Sperm Whale and the Standard Sperm Whale, which most people know and love. Other long-missing members of this group include Acrophyseter and Brygmophyseter who were stunted compared to Leviathan and its descendants.

The longest teeth of the animal kingdom

Leviathan teeth

If you thought that the Tyrannosaurus Rex or the Saber-toothed Tiger had impressive fangs, they are nothing compared to those of Leviathan. This sea monster possessed the longest teeth of the entire animal kingdom, dead or alive, with 14 inches fangs which were used to shred the pulpit of its poor victims. Surprisingly, Leviathan's teeth were even larger than those of the super-predator of the ocean, the Megalodon, although those of the prehistoric shark were more pointed.

A colossal beast

With a 50-tons jig and a 50-foot length from head to tail, this sperm whale had to swallow hundreds of pounds of food every day in order to maintain its mass and fuel its warm-blooded metabolism. Favorite preys on the Leviathan menu was small whales as well as Miocene seals and dolphins. This sea monster also fed on fish, squids, sharks and all other underwater creatures that crossed its path while having a bad day.

Leviathan lived with Megalodon

Megalodon vs Leviathan

Because fossil evidence is so scarce, it is unknown exactly how long Leviathan dominated the oceans, but we know for sure that it had to cross path with the gigantic prehistoric shark Megalodon since they lived at the same time. Although these apex predators probably did not hunt each other, they had to compete for the same food sources.

Did you say Livyatan?

The name Leviathan, after the sea monster of the Old Testament, seems more than appropriate for this giant whale. The researchers realized, however, that this name had already been attributed to a species of Mastodon almost a century earlier. For this reason, this sperm whale is generally referred to by the name Livyatan, which is the Hebrew spelling of Leviathan. The name of the species, L. melvillei, pays tribute to the famous 19th century writer Herman Melville, creator of Moby Dick. Melville died long before Leviathan was discovered; he may have known of another prehistoric giant whale, the Basilosaurus of North America.

Discovered in Peru

Livyatan jaw

Leviathan is one of the few prehistoric animals to have been discovered in Peru; this region of South America is not famous for its fossil beds due largely to the vagaries of deep geological times and continental drift. Peru is best known for its prehistoric whales - not only Leviathan but also other "proto-whales" that preceded it by tens of millions of years - and also for its giant prehistoric penguins like Inkayacu and Icadyptes who were about the size of a large human adult.

Disappearance of Leviathan

As mentioned before, it is not known how long this sea monster survived after the Miocene times. But the fact remains that if Leviathan has disappeared from the oceans, it is certainly because the populations of its favorite preys, such as prehistoric seals and dolphins, had rapidly decreased after succumbing to changes in temperature and currents. The ultimate fate of Leviathan was the same as its arch-nemesis, the Megalodon shark.

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