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Shark-eating whales? Scientists identify four new whale species

Teeth of a fossilized whale called 'Willy' are severely worn down, suggesting that this previously unknown species of whale may have eaten large animals like sharks.

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It isn't well understood exactly how whales became so gigantic, although it's at least partially related to the development of baleen and a behavior called "lunge feeding," wherein whales swallow enormous amounts of water and filter out tiny animals like krill, said Nicholas Pyenson, a researcher at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in Rivin's research.

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3D fossil models

Pyenson described Rivin's find as "exciting" and said that he's eager to see the published details of the fossils, which are due in the near future, Rivin said.

Pyenson also happened upon whale fossils unearthed during construction of a roadway, in his case, in Chile. His group only had one week to remove the material and used a laser scanner to create a 3D visualization or map of the fossils, he said. The researchers then used a 3D printer to create a physical model of the fossils, Pyenson said at the AAAS meeting.

The teeth of "Willy" are severely worn down, suggesting that this whale may have eaten large animals like sharks. Modern-day, offshore killer whales show a similar pattern of tooth wear, which results from feeding on thick-skinned sleeper sharks, Rivin said.

Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

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