The Valley of the Whales
Wadi Al-Hitan in Egypt’s Western Desert is the only place in the world where the skeletons of families of archaic whales can be seen in their original geological and geographic setting of the shallow nutrient-rich
bay of a sea of some 40 million years ago. The fossils and sediments of different periods and levels reveal many millions of years of life and are valuable indications of the palaeoecologic conditions, of Eocene vertebrate and invertebrate life and the evolution of these ancestors of modern whales. Remarkably, two species still had small hind limbs, feet and toes.
Inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list under Natural Criterion in 2005, Wadi el Hitan (or Zeuglodon Valley) is about 12 kilometres west of the prominent hill of Garet Gehannam in the Wadi el Rayan Protected Area. It is marked by a rich content of both vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, and is practically an open display-case in the desert.
Many whale skeletons dating back to the Eocene Age are found on or near the surface, while thousands of nummulites of various kinds are scattered on the ground beside exposures containing macro-invertebrate fossils – a situation typical of the three formations found here (Gehannam, Birket Qarun and Qasr el Sagha).
The fossils of Wadi El-Hitan were discovered in 1902 by H. J. L. Beadnell of the Geological Survey of Egypt. Between 1983 and 2007, nine expeditions were led by Egyptian and American paleontologists. The expedition teams found and mapped about 400 whale and sea cow skeletons in the valley. During the 1989 expedition, the first fully aquatic whale specimens with legs and feet were discovered.
The fossilized whales at Wadi El-Hitan help answer important questions about evolution ( above Whale Evolution timelapse by Jordan Collver ). Today, whales are air-breathing mammals that live in the oceans. Evidence from Wadi El- Hitan and another important fossil site in Pakistan, show that whales evolved from four legged, land dwelling mammals. But what might have caused these land mammals to enter the sea? At the beginning of the Eocene Epoch, 55 million years ago, global temperatures increased more rapidly and to a greater degree than at any other time in geologic history. These changes would have prompted some land mammals to seek new habitats.
The shoreline may have become a more reliable place to find food. Over time, mammal species possibly evolved to rely on the abundance of fish and other foods in shoreline waters. Being able to move efficiently underwater would have been an advantage. Fossils of Basilosaurus isis such, demonstrate the evolutionary changes that were underway with this species. Basilosaurus was the first whale to be described with functional hind limbs: remnants of their former existence on land.
The ancient whales of Wadi El-Hitan are an important link in the evolution of whales. Fully aquatic Basilosaurus and Dorudon with their small legs and feet show that the change from life on land to the seas was successful. Basilosaurus is also the largest of the known ancient whales and its intact fossil is on display inside The Fossils and Climate Change Museum. It was possibly the first whale large enough to move into open ocean habitats away from the shoreline where earlier whales evolved.
Wadi Hitan has become recently a great destination for many star gazers as the sky of Wadi Hitan is clear and there is no light pollution that may cause any visual obstacles. (Video Osama Zitoon).
|Valley of the Whales||35 EGP||15 USD||5 EGP||50 EGP Egyptian – 200 EGP Foreigner|
Explore Wadi Hitan with Fayoumer!
As to provide the Fayoum visitors with an ultimate Fayoum experience. Explore Fayoum founder, Mahmoud a.k.a Fayoumer, a local guide and a researcher based in Fayoum Governorate will take you on curated tours to explore fabulous Fayoum in different thematic itineraries to ensure an ultimate Fayoum experience. He will share with you his knowledge of the area and his interesting Fayoum stories. More Info Here