Dead Humpback Whale Found in Amazon Jungle Baffles Scientists
Scientists are baffled by the discovery of a 26-foot-long humpback whale in the middle of the Amazon jungle, on Marajó Island in northern Brazil. The 10-ton male calf was found some 50 feet from the ocean shore, lying in the middle of a tropical mangrove where it will decompose as experts have no way of reaching it with heavy machinery.
The juvenile whale was estimated to be about a year old and is believed to have been separated from its mother during a migration, before washing up on shore in a storm. But how it landed in the middle of the thick jungle growth that far inland is still a bit of a mystery.
Scientists’ only guess is that a storm may have somehow flung the creature into the forest, though the details don’t quite add up. The animal’s carcass is relatively unscathed, and researchers are unable to reach it with bulldozers. So, how did a storm toss this behemoth of an animal that far, or push it into the jungle without leaving a clear path of destruction?
Renata Emin, project leader at the Bicho D’agua Institute, told Brazilian news publication O Liberal, “We’re still not sure how it landed here, but we’re guessing that the creature was floating close to the shore and the tide, which has been pretty considerable over the past few days, picked it up and threw it inland, into the mangrove.”
Adding to the mystery is the fact that humpback whales are almost never seen in this particular region at this time of year. According to Emin, it’s common to see them on the country’s southern coast from August through November, but rarely do they travel the hundreds of miles north to the mouth of the Amazon in February. Something strange certainly caused the not-so-little guy to get lost.
Scientists were alerted to the animal’s presence when they noticed flocking birds of prey scavenging on its carcass. And because of the animal’s peculiar and confined location they will allow it to decompose before eventually removing the bones to be displayed at a local museum.
In the past there have been bizarre meteorological phenomena that cause fish and other animals to rain from the sky during intense storms or tornadic waterspouts, though animals as large as whales have never been reported.
And while it’s more likely that a storm led to the animal being violently pushed inland, fans of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, might instantly harken back to the scene when a sperm whale is suddenly called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet, questioning the point of its existence – and body parts – as it plummets to the ground.
Maybe scientists on the ground in Brazil should also be on the lookout for a shattered bowl of petunias.
For more on the mystery of animals raining from the sky watch Out of the Blue from Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World:
Artificial Intelligence Finds Missing Ghost Ancestor of Humans
Our ancestry as a species is intricate and convoluted. We know that Denisovans, Neanderthals, and the other iterations of our hominin ancestors interbred and evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. But while anthropologists have done their best to map out this complicated lineage, we’ve now reached a point in our evolution that machines can map our genealogy better than we can. Such was the case when a machine learning algorithm applied to our DNA roadmap found a new ancestor we didn’t even know existed.
According to a study published in Nature Communications, scientists fed DNA data from fossilized bones and modern humans into an A.I. algorithm that computed thousands of timelines to map out the possible evolutionary pathways based on what we know – or what we think we know – about our ancestors migrations, diasporas, and interbreeding to tell us if we were missing anything.
It turns out we were…
The new study found that a missing, archaic “ghost” ancestor played a significant role in the development of the human species, helping to propel us from primitive hominins to the highly intelligent beings we are today.
This ancestor was likely a hybrid of Neanderthals and the Denisovans – the hominin ancestor discovered in 2010, that five percent of modern humans can still directly trace their genealogy through.
And though the study’s authors are referring to this hominin hybrid as a “ghost” population, they also believe there might be fossil evidence of it found in the bones of a 90,000-year-old specimen of a teenage girl discovered in Siberia’s Denisova cave – the location where the original Denisovan fossils were found.
The discovery of the Denisovans has presented itself as one of the most profound and baffling finds for archeologists within the past decade as their fossil remains showed they existed for millennia alongside our other ancestors. Not to mention they appear to have been massive in comparison to other hominin species.
And by massive, they mean that a Denisovan wisdom tooth found in the cave was originally mistaken for that of a bear’s. And though wisdom teeth can vary in size, the anthropologist studying the specimen, Bence Viola, told National Geographic, “large teeth with massive roots would probably require massive jaws.”
Who were these gigantic Denisovans whom we know so little about, and even more baffling, what did their hybrid progeny with Neanderthal’s look like? These paradigm-shifting discoveries only add to the fact that we still have so much more to learn about our species’ history.
For more on the strange discovery of the gigantic Denisovans check out this episode of Ancient Civilizations :