A whale skeleton thought to be up to 5,000 years old has been discovered, almost perfectly preserved, by researchers in Thailand.
The skeleton, believed to be a Bryde’s whale, was found in Samut Sakhon, west of Bangkok.
Researchers have excavated 80% of the remains, and have so far identified 19 complete vertebrae, five ribs, a shoulder blade and fins. The skeleton measures 12 metres (39 feet), with a three-metre-long skull.
The bones will be carbon-dated to verify their age, but it is thought they are between 3,000 and 5,000 years old.
Bryde’s whales are still found in Thailand’s waters, including in the Gulf of Thailand, where they are considered a protected species. The whales – which prefer waters above 16C (61F), and feed on schooling fish such as anchovies – face threats from fishing equipment as well as tourism.
The discovery will help deepen researchers’ understanding of the evolution of the species, as well as other marine life. Alongside the skeleton, researchers found preserved items including shark teeth and shells.
The remains, which were found about 12km (7.5 miles) inland, will also provide important evidence to help scientists track how sea levels have changed over thousands of years, said Varawut Silpa-archa, the natural resources and environment minister.
Marcus Chua of the National University of Singapore told the BBC the partially fossilised bones were “a rare find” and that the discovery “provides a window into the past”. The skeleton is expected to provide information about the “paleobiological and geological conditions at that time, including sea-level estimation, types of sediments, and the contemporary biological communities”.
There were few whale subfossils in Asia, Chua said, and finding one in such good condition was especially unusual.
The exact age of the skeleton is expected to be confirmed in December.