Friday, September 18, 2009

Summer Adventures Part 3: Dolphin excavation

This story actually begins last winter, on a foul foggy day in Santa Cruz. Actually, the weather was quite nice. Anyway, I had been out prospecting, looking for new fossils, and I wasn't finding much. I was right near where a whale skeleton would be collected several months in the future (see Santa Cruz Whale Excavation). On a small ledge of Purisima sandstone, I found a set of articulated cetacean vertebrae (formerly featured on a quiz). I just about died inside, because part of me knew that short of a miracle, fluke, or a construction project, this skeleton would never get excavated (and I wouldn't dare hack out half of a skeleton).

Dave Haasl, Dave Maloney, and Karl Heiman (from left to right), who found and reported the other skeleton.

Well, you guessed it, I don't really believe in miracles, and I guess it doesn't count as a fluke, so that leaves a construction project. Yes, construction of a seawall has been occurring all summer, and Paleoresource Consultants have had an onsite paleontologist (for once; I believe this is one of the first times a seawall project in Santa Cruz has had any sort of paleo mitigation). I was originally under the impression that the city/county wasn't going to bother.

The fantastic folks from PaleoResource Consultants after the plaster jacket is emplaced.

Luckily for me, they did, and on top of that, footed the bill for the excavation. So, after I checked it out, it was pretty obvious that the vertebral column included the last 3-4 cervicals, all thoracics, and anteriormost lumbar vertebrae all articulated. There were several ribs, and a random mysticete bone (who knows?).

Onsite paleontologists trenching under the monolithic, refrigerator-sized jacket. Ok, squashed washing machine-size.

After the onsite guys did a little more excavating, they found some oddly shaped bones which I identified as the ventral portion of the vomer and the maxilla or frontal. It is possible that the posterior braincase has disarticulated from the skull; the skull (in relation to the vertebral column) is upside down, facing backwards, and separated by about 50cm. The presence of the anterior skull also (most importantly) allowed me to identify it as a medium sized odontocete, rather than a juvenile or small mysticete.

I take absolutely no credit for excavating this (as I didn't, which makes this photograph totally misleading). I simply thought I (at the very least) deserved this photo op since I found it.

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