Sunday, November 18, 2012

US Research trip part 2 - snapshots from USNM research

About two weeks ago I returned from my epic, month and a half-long trip to the US. Unfortunately, I was far too busy during the rest of my trip to regularly update the blog, and I’ve been swamped trying to catch up since I’ve been back in New Zealand. Aside from the normal activity and trying to get back on track with everything I put on hold before my trip, last Monday I wrapped up final edits on a short manuscript which I submitted to Biology Letters. I had written the manuscript during some of my downtime during my east coast trip, and am pleased to have something to show for myself in addition to all of the photographs and data I collected. In other news, Morgan Churchill and I were busy over the last week finalizing revisions for a separate manuscript in PLoS… which you will hopefully be hearing more about in the near future.

With regards to my east coast adventure, I’m going to continue on and dedicate a series of picture-rich blog posts detailing my experiences and some of the stuff I saw.

 One of the benefits of visiting the USNM is that other like-minded folks are always visiting for research, especially prior to or after nearby conferences. Upon my arrival I was pleased to meet up with Mizuki Murakami, a Ph.D. student at Waseda University in Japan who has been studying fossil odontocetes from the Miocene and Pliocene of Japan. He recently published a couple of excellent papers on fossil porpoises (Phocoenidae) in the September issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (back to back, and in the same issue, no less). Here, Mizuki is pictured with the holotype skull of Bohaskaia monodontoides, published recently by Jorge Velez-Juarbe and Nick Pyenson.

What’s Ewan looking at? This big ugly lump is a subfossil right whale (Balaenidae) braincase from Holocene dune deposits. I’m not sure if it’s Balaena or Eubalaena.

 In this photo, Ewan is examining the temporal region of the USNM skull of Balaenoptera musculus – the blue whale. I had to stand about 15’ away to get this all in the frame.

Mizuki working on vertebral measurements next to a pilot whale (Globicephala) skeletal mount.

The holotype braincase of the fossil baleen whale Herpetocetus transatlanticus from the Yorktown Formation of North Carolina, also at the oversize facility.

One of the curatorial benches for material that needs to be reintegrated with the main collection. In the foreground, you can see the Simocetus rayi type specimen, a bunch of casts of Oligocene NZ cetaceans I hand carried to the US, and some other odds and ends.

An amusing chart to help visitors make some sense out of the nomenclatural mess of eurhinodelphinids that, while now sorted out thanks to the careful work of Olivier Lambert, can still plague some museum collections with outdated labeling. In this case, the USNM collection has updated all of the labels – but for purposes of tracking down specific specimens to which other names have been used, it’s always important to refer to the history of applied names. In this case, many of the names in the left hand columns are “unpublished” names of eurhinodelphinids from Myrick’s Ph.D. dissertation, which was never published. Lambert subsequently sorted out the group.


Look how happy I was! This is the complete skeleton which Annalisa Berta and colleagues referred to Enaliarctos mealsi, from the Jewett Sand at Pyramid Hill (California). This specimen was collected by none other than Doug Emlong.

The gigantic skull of Pelocetus calvertensis – okay, it’s only three meters long, but that’s gigantic for “cetothere” (or, in this case, the group some of us affectionately refer to as “Kelloggitheres”).

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