An articulated baleen whale vertebral column sits in a multiton block in the foreground, with Kirk and I looking for smaller fossils in the distance. Photo courtesy Ray Troll.
One of the most notable series of fossil localities are exposures of various strata in the Newport Embayment (a geological basin), including the Alsea Formation, Yaquina Formation, Nye Mudstone, and Astoria Formation. The eccentric, extraordinarily gifted, and tragic figure Douglas R. Emlong amassed an incredible collection of marine mammal fossils from this area and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest during the 1960's and 1970's, prior to his premature death in 1980. One of the purposes of our trip is to visit several of Emlong's famed fossil localities as a pilgrimage of sorts, and pay homage to the great collector.
Douglas R. Emlong, with the partially prepared skull of USNM 215068, a male skull of the early walrus Proneotherium repenningi. Presumably this is during preparation in the Paleobiology Department at the Smithsonian Institution, during one of his visits to the east coast museum. From "The Ore Bin".
Previously, in October, I met up with Ray and Kirk when they were in California for a week. We took a day trip down to Santa Cruz where I showed them some fossil localities, and all in all had a rather nice day – although I didn't find a damn thing (thanks to there being little erosion over the prior 20 months). As it turns out, Ray and Kirk have increasingly been picking my brain for details on fossil marine mammals from the eastern North Pacific, and I am pleased and excited to help them with their project; most popular books on paleontology deal with dinosaurs, and very few have ever really touched the subject of marine mammals (Neptune's Ark by David Rains Wallace is an exception). Needless to say, I am very excited for their project to take off.
I found out that if the first fossil locality you go to is kind of ugly and has few fossils (but used to have a lot...), Ray Troll will make you pose with the crappiest fossil you find and a bunch of garbage he finds laying about. Included is a toothbrush, a cardboard mayan calendar, a random photo album (yes, we looked through it) and some other odds and ends; I'm pointing to a rather unassuming scrap of sea cow (Dusisiren jordani) bone. True story.