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Prehistoric whale discovered on the West Coast of Sweden

News: Jun 01, 2009

The skeleton of a whale that died around 10,000 years ago has been found in connection with the extension of the E6 motorway in Strömstad. The whale bones are now being examined by researchers at the University of Gothenburg who, among other things, want to ascertain whether the find is the mystical "Swedenborg whale".

The whale bones were discovered in mid-April south of Skee in the municipality of Strömstad in conjunction with excavations for the E6 extension. The whale skeleton, which is between 15 and 20 metres and is almost intact, has now been studied by Thomas Dahlgren at the Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, who can confirm that it is a right whale.

Similar to the "Swedenborg whale"

There are currently four species of right whale. What is particularly interesting is that the size and shape of the whale bones resemble those of a fifth species: the mystical "Swedenborg whale", first described by the scientist Emmanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century.

-Bones from what is believed to be Swedenborg's right whale have previously been found in western Sweden. However, determining the species of whale bones found in earth is complicated and there is no definitive conclusion on whether the whale actually existed, it could equally well be a myth, says zoologist Thomas Dahlgren and his colleague Leif Jonsson.

DNA tests conducted

To determine the species of whale that has been found Thomas Dahlgren has conducted DNA tests that are to be analysed in conjunction with researchers at the Natural History Museum in London. The whale bones are interesting in several respects. The fragments of bone were collected in a clay deposit and remains of marine organisms that today are also endangered species were found around them.

- The hunt for the large whale species, which led to the extinction of the Atlantic grey whale and perhaps the Swedenborg whale, may also have caused the extinction of a large number of species that are dependent on whale carcasses for their survival, says Thomas Dahlgren.

Preserved in clay

The whale bones are thought to be around 10,000 years old and were found 75 metres above sea level, but in a site that at that time was located out on the coast. It is conjectured that the bones have been preserved for such a long time as they were surrounded by fine, oxygen-free clay. The largest whale bone, approximately 2.5 metres long, is part of a jawbone. Among the smaller bones is a vertebra. Discussions are underway on whether the bones can be put in order and potentially put on public display.

Contact: Thomas Dahlgren, Assistant Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

46 (0)703-662042

Facts about the Swedenborg whale (Balaena swedenbo´rgii)

The whale species is believed to have existed in the North Sea from the period when the inland ice melted until about 8,000 years ago, and subsequently to have died out. Ten collections of bones from the species have been found in the west of Sweden. However, there is speculation that the bones have been mistaken for other species, and that the Swedenborg whale never existed. Source: Swedish National Encyclopedia

Caption top: The whale bone is discovered. Photo: Svevia

Caption below: The whale vertebra is 120 cm wide. Photo: Thomas Dahlgren

BY:
+46 (0)31 786 49 12

Contact Information

Carina Eliasson, Communications Officer

Visiting Address:
Guldhedsgatan 5 A

Phone:
+ 46 31 786 98 73

Fax:
031-786 4839

Note of clarification

In case of doubt or confusion, the Swedish version of this press release takes precedence.

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