The arid desert sands of Egypt are unlikely to be home to whales.
However, dozens of fossilized remains of prehistoric ancestors of the giant sea mammals have been discovered in the Egyptian Sahara.
Among them is a 37 million-year-old intact skeleton of a legged whale measuring more than 65 feet (20 meters) in length.
Scientists are learning more about how modern whales evolved from land mammals thanks to the fossils.
A $2.17 billion (£1.5 billion) museum in the Valley of the Whales, known as Wadi Al-Hitan, has now officially opened.
The region was once covered by a vast prehistoric ocean, but it has since vanished as sea levels have dropped and landmasses have shifted.
Many of the fossils are now protected by a sand-colored dome-shaped building that serves as the museum.
Prehistoric tools – which attest to the presence of stone-age humans in the area thousands of years ago – are displayed in glass boxes alongside fossilised remains from the fossils.
The architect of the new Fossils and Climate Change Museum, Gabriel Mikhail, said he designed the structure to blend in with its desert surroundings.
‘When you build something so beautiful and unique, it has to blend in with its surroundings… or it would be a crime against nature,’ he explained.
‘We are confident that visitors will come,’ says the organization.
THE WHALE SKELETON THAT REVEALS HOW MAN EVOLVED TO WALK ON TWO LEGS
A whale that swam hundreds of miles up an African river after taking a wrong turn 17 million years ago is helping shed light on a key moment in human evolution.
Palaeontologists discovered the fossilised remains of the ancient ancestor to modern beaked whales in the middle of one of the harshest desert areas of Turkana, Kenya.
It has allowed scientists to pinpoint when the landscape in east Africa began to change as the land around the Great Rift Valley began to rise up.
This was a crucial moment in human evolution from primates as it created the dry open habitats that led our ape-like ancestors to walk upright for the first time.
They say that for the whale to have travelled so far inland in a river the area must have been much wetter, far flatter and dominated by forests.
Professor Louis Jacobs, a vertebrate palaeontologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who led the study, said: ‘The whale was stranded up river at a time when east Africa was at sea level and was covered with forest and jungle.
‘As that part of the continent rose up, that caused the climate to become drier and drier. So over millions of years, forest gave way to grasslands.
‘Primates evolved to adapt to grasslands and dry country. And that’s when – in human evolution – the primates started to walk upright.’
Egypt’s ministers hope that the new museum will help to revitalize the country’s struggling tourism industry, which has suffered as a result of the long-running Islamic insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.
The suspected terror bombing that brought down the Russian airliner over Sinai last October, killing all 224 people on board, dealt another blow to Egypt’s tourism industry.
The Islamic State terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The large Basilosaurus and the smaller Dorudon are among the fossilized whales found in the desert. They are both thought to be early whale species that help to explain how they evolved.
However, Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy warned against misinterpreting the museum’s opening as a “complete endorsement of the theory of evolution,” which is incompatible with Islam.
‘That is a completely different matter,’ he explained. ‘We remain committed to our Islamic belief system.’