Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sixth Triennial conference on the Secondary Adaptation of Tetrapods to Life in the Water

Two weeks ago today, I delivered a presentation on the first day of the 2011 Aquatic Tetrapods conference in beautiful San Diego, California. I had eight hours on my drive down to San Diego the day before to worry about how screwed I was: the last time I gave that presentation, it was only 20 slides longer, and took 50 minutes to deliver. I practiced it once Monday morning in front of Joe El Adli (our gracious host), and Yale students Rachel Racicot and Daniel Field - I barely fit it into 20 minutes. It all worked out fine, and in the actual presentation, I finished the last conclusion slide right as it counted down to zero. This was a fresh break from SVP tradition, which dicates that cetacean research is presented on the afternoon of the last day, giving you all week to worry about the presentation. This time, I was able to relax during the entire meeting.

My title slide for my taphonomy presentation.

It would be very difficult to summarize all the research presented, but I might be able to summarize a few of the highlights that stick out in my mind. Julia Fahlke (University of Michigan) gave a fascinating talk Monday Morning about basilosaurid and protocetid cetaceans with asymmetrical crania, and implications for the evolution of hearing underwater. I'll admit, when I read the abstract I was skeptical, but her presentation was pretty compelling - I'll wait to say more until it gets published, though. Brian Beatty presented some details of his research on meningeal ossification in cetacea, which appears to not be homologous to that in many other mammals. Larry Barnes showed us a new Paleoparadoxia skeleton the LACM has been working on from the Monterey Formation; it's virtually complete, with a very large, gnarly looking skull. Olivier Lambert gave a talk coauthored by Giovanni Bianucci on a new large assemblage of bizarre ziphiid fossils dredged from the seafloor off the coast of Spain; boy, there are some real freaks. Our Australian colleague Erich Fitzgerald presented a new juvenile aetiocetid skull from the Oligocene of Washington State which he's been slowly preparing with acid; needless to say, it's a beautiful specimen. Manuel Martinez, a Peruvian who is Christian de Muizon's Ph.D. student, presented on an incredible new toothed mysticete from the Oligocene of Peru - I won't give any details, but lets just say this will be a very, very important specimen.
Frank Fish gives a mini presentation on locomotor adaptations of various marine mammals, using an assortment of articulated limbs (a walrus forelimb is seen in the foreground).

On wednesday, we went over to the San Diego Natural History Museum for an osteology workshop on aquatic tetrapods. Due to the research focus of Tom Demere (Paleo curator) and Annalisa Berta, the majority of material out on display was from modern and fossil marine mammals. There was a great assortment of wonderful stuff out, and it was amazing to be there with so many other marine mammal (and otherwise) researchers there.

Several cetacean researchers are in this photo: Toshiyuki Kimura (foreground), Mette Steeman (behind "Tosh"), and Giovanni Bianucci (background, left) and Joe El Adli (background, right).

At the workshop, I caught Brian Beatty red-handed demonstrating his very technical method to determine the relative height of the bony tentorium (here on a skull of the Amazon river dolphin, Inia geoffrensis).

For a while, Daryl Domning gave a short presentation on the locomotion and forelimb of sirenians (using a Manatee forelimb skeleton).

Here, some of the brightest minds in cetacean paleontology scrutinize one of the weirdest fossil mysticetes: a new species of Herpetocetus under study by Joe El Adli. From left to right: Mette Steeman, Joe El Adli (standing), Felix Marx (leaning over skull), Meredith Rivin (background), Giovanni Bianucci (in glasses), and Olivier Lambert (in red).

Manuel Martinez, a Peruvian researcher studying with Christian de Muizon in Paris, did not waste a chance to photobomb. Here he is photographed with a cast of the skull of the bizarre extinct edentulous* walrus Valenictus chulavistensis.

Daryl Domning again gives a short presentation, this time on sirenian crania. Here he is showing a cast of the skull of the world's largest sirenian, the extinct Pliocene species Hydrodamalis cuestae (the ancestor of the "modern" Steller's Sea Cow).

My (soon to be) coauthor Morgan Churchill photographs an articulated hindlimb of the modern walrus.
Rachel Racicot (and Daniel Field) hung out with me for a bit in the type room at the San Diego Natural History museum while I photographed some fossil pinniped material. Skulls of gigantic Hydrodamalis cuestae sit on the table behind Rachel.

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