Cast of skull at the Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa
is an extinct genus of macroraptorial sperm whale containing one species: L. melvillei
. The genus name was inspired by the biblical sea monster Leviathan, and the species name by Herman Melville, the author of the famous novel Moby-Dick
about a white bull sperm whale. It is mainly known from the Pisco Formation of Peru during the Tortonian stage of the Miocene epoch, about 9.9–8.9 million years ago (mya); however, isolated teeth from other locations such as Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and Australia implies that either it or a close relative survived into the Pliocene, around 5
mya, and was present throughout the Southern Hemisphere. It was a member of a group of hyper-predatory macroraptorial sperm whales (or "raptorial sperm whales") and was likely an apex predator, preying on whales, seals, and so forth. Characteristic of raptorial sperm whales, Livyatan
had functional, enamel-coated teeth on the upper and lower jaws, as well as several adaptations for hunting large prey.Livyatan'
s total length has been estimated to be about 13.5–17.5 m (44–57 ft), similar to the modern sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus
), making it one of the largest predators to have ever existed. The teeth of Livyatan
measured 36.2 cm (1.2 ft), and are the largest biting teeth of any known animal, excluding tusks. It is distinguished from the other raptorial sperm whales by the basin on the skull, and how it spans the entire length of the snout. The spermaceti organ, contained in that basin, is thought to have been used in echolocation and communication, or for ramming prey and other sperm whales. The whale may have interacted with the large extinct shark megalodon (Otodus megalodon
), competing with it for a similar food source. Its extinction was likely caused by a cooling event at the end of the Miocene which resulted in a drop in food populations. The formation where the whale has been found has also preserved a large assemblage of marine life, such as sharks and marine mammals. (Full article...