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10 Terrifying Extinct Cetaceans


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Leviathan melvillei
The giant, ancient sperm whale Leviathan (or Livyatan) melvillei was named for "Moby Dick" author Herman Melville and the Biblical monster Leviathan -- although it likely was scarier than either literary creature. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The giant, ancient sperm whale Leviathan (or Livyatan) melvillei was named for "Moby Dick" author Herman Melville and the Biblical monster Leviathan -- although it likely was scarier than either literary creature. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Your modern sperm whale may seem to be a mighty beast. After all, Moby Dick was one of them, and he sank a whaling boat. Although Melville based his great novel on a true story, he fudged some facts to make his whale scarier. The truth is that sperm whales spend most of their time diving deep while on the hunt for cephalopods like squid and octopuses. And although they have some peglike teeth, they actually use suction to hold onto their prey.

But in 2010, researchers in Peru uncovered the remains of a gigantic sperm whale dating back 12 million years to the Miocene era. Measuring more than 50 feet (15 meters) in length, its head alone was nearly 10 feet (3 meters) long, and its powerful jaws were lined with 12-inch (30.4 centimeters) teeth. Its prey? Baleen whales. The paleontologists who found this monster named it for Herman Melville, which seems fitting. After all, as one of the largest known predators to have ever existed, Leviathan melvillei was the force of nature Melville wanted Moby Dick to be [source: Urbina].