Monday, January 23, 2012

Southern California Research Trip, Part 2: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (exhibits)

After two and a half days at the San Diego MNH, Morgan, Sarah, and I said our goodbyes to our friends and colleagues there (Joe El Adli, Eric Ekdale, and Tom Demere), and piled into my tiny honda for the drive up to LA - we decided that spending another morning at SDNHM would allow us to drive up to LACM and miss all the morning traffic. We arrived at the museum at about 2 in the afternoon, and after chatting with Curator Emeritus Dr. Lawrence ('Larry') Barnes for a little bit, we got right to work examining fossil pinnipeds. I'll discuss the collections visit in the next post - first I'd like to talk a bit about the new mammal paleontology hall.

The new "Age of Mammals" hall has been in the works for several years, and has taken quite a bit of time on behalf of most of the Paleontology Dept. employees at LACM. I've seen a few photos on the internet prior to my visit, so I knew a little of what to expect. I don't have much of a research interest concerning terrestrial mammals - so, sorry terrestrial paleomammalogists who happen to be reading this blog (admittedly a very, very, very small fraction of humanity), but I'm going to ignore the land mammals. Some of the marine mammal highlights include a mounted skeleton of the sperm whale Aulophyseter morricei from the Sharktooth Hill Bonebed, as well as the holotype skeleton of the phocoid pinniped Allodesmus kelloggi (which, according to some, may be a junior synonym of Allodesmus kernensis), and adult and juvenile mounted skeletons of the late Miocene dugongid Dusisiren jordani, which were collected from the Santa Margarita Sandstone in Santa Cruz County. Lastly, and arguably the centerpiece of the marine mammal exhibits - is a beautiful new skeleton of Paleoparadoxia (which apparently may be named as a new genus in the near or distant future). Aside from these, there are a handful of skulls and pinniped fossils on display, including the world's oldest delphinid dolphin fossil - a complete skull from the Monterey Formation, unnamed and still undescribed. Overall, however - I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed. Certainly on the lower floor, there are plenty of fossil land mammals just packed in. But the top floor, which was an odd mix of La Brea specimens and marine mammals, there was just a lot of empty space, and there wasn't really that much marine mammal material on display, which is surprising given that the LACM holds one of the largest fossil marine mammal collections in North America.

Not in the Age of Mammals hall, but I had to include a picture of my favorite
pinniped, Callorhinus ursinus.

The juvenile skeleton of Aulophyseter morricei from the Sharktooth Hill Bonebed. This individual is under 50% adult size. The only known skeleton of this taxon.

This also was not taken in the Age of Mammals hall - but it goes to show that my wife likes to photobomb fossils all the time. I mostly put this up here to demonstrate to others that she is an awful person.

The holotype skeleton of Allodesmus kelloggi.

A cast of the holotype (and only known specimen) skull and jaw of the desmatophocid pinniped Atopotarus courseni. Atopotarus has occasionally been recombined as Allodesmus courseni, but desmatophocid taxonomy will have to be covered in a separate post.

A referred lower jaw of the Miocene sirenian Dioplotherium allisoni.

The adult female and juvenile skeletons of Dusisiren jordani from the Santa Margarita Sandstone in Santa Cruz County. The juvenile is so damn cute...

A Paleoparadoxia ulna with sharktooth bite marks. This specimen belongs to the mounted skeleton shown below.

A rather bizarrely portrayed fossil dolphin in some artwork related to sharktooth bite marks; I'm sure the artist was more interested and familiar with depicting sharks than cetaceans.

One of the exhibits I was looking forward to as a taphonomist - the gut contents of a Basilosaurus cetoides skeleton from Mississippi! It had as gut contents when it died
a mass of fish bones.

The articulated forelimb of the late Miocene delphinoid Albireo whistleri, originally described by Larry Barnes from the Almejas Formation at Cedros Island in Baja California.

The business end of the new Paleoparadoxia skeleton.

I'll leave you with this large size image of the Paleoparadoxia skeleton - my dslr camera doesn't have a wide angle lens, so I had to stitch these photos together for an ultra-size photo (I have a much larger version; contact me if you want it). And yes, that is the intrepid Morgan Churchill standing behind its ass.


J. Velez-Juarbe said...

The paleoparadoxiid might indeed be distinctive enough to warrant a new generic designation, its a beautiful specimen! Unfortunately its description is delayed...

That mandible is not the holotype of Dioplotherium allisoni, its actually a specimen that Domning (1978) referred to that species. The holotype, an even crappier specimen, is at UCMP and it is from La Purisima in Baja California. A much more complete specimen that includes mandible and skull, from the Topanga Fm., is currently being described.

Robert Boessenecker said...


Thanks for the clarification on Dioplotherium! The error has been corrected. I recognized the specimen from Domning (1978) when we were in the exhibit hall, but I'll admit I never read that part of the monograph in any detail.

Keep me posted on these studies, when they get published!

Doug said...

"Overall, however - I must admit I was a bit underwhelmed."- So was i, though probably for different reasons. Now that my video camera is working again i hope to do a review of it soon.

"... my favorite
pinniped, Callorhinus ursinus."- Meh, i think they're kinda ugly. My favorite pinniped is Mirounga angustirostris.

Anyway, can't wait for your next post. Ugh, how much i envy you! I've been trying to get into their collections to try and publish something on their Central Coast material, but no success...