Sunday, October 6, 2013

New cast received by mail: Squalodelphis fabianii - "baseball cards" for scientists

I apologize for the month-long lapse in posting; I've been pretty busy pushing along on a number of fronts, particularly on my dissertation research. Lots of writing, preparation, photography, ammonium chloride coating, powerpoint presentation-making, and perhaps most notably - learning how to embed fossil bone fragments in epoxy for preparing paleohistology slides. I've still got a ton of stuff to do in the next 8 days - I have a week left until I fly home to California to see my family, visit a bunch of museums, and present on my dissertation research at the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I have decided - in favor of preserving my sanity - to take a break from all the serious stuff and spend some time blogging and thus returning to paleontological 'cheerleading'.

In vertebrate paleontology, it is imperative to directly examine fossils when conducting research. If a museum is too far away and too expensive to visit, then a good cast makes for an excellent alternative. Sometimes we will get the chance to examine important specimens in person - but if they are particularly important, for example - closely related to a fossil under study - then possessing a cast for comparison and longish term study is just as useful. For example, I've never had the opportunity to visit France or South Africa, but at the Smithsonian I was able to examine and photograph casts of the true seals Piscophoca and Homiphoca (in collections of said countries); similarly, I have not made plans (and will not have the budget) to visit collections in Japan, and in our department we have a cast of the Oligocene Japanese mysticete Aetiocetus polydentatus.

Recently, Yoshi has been making numerous casts of the Oligocene dolphin Waipatia maerewhenua, one of the most completely known Oligocene cetaceans - for trading with other institutions. So far, casts of Waipatia have gotten us casts of Piscobalaena from the MNHN, Aetiocetus polydentatus from the Ashoro Museum of Paleontology, and most recently - the early Miocene longirostrine odontocete Squalodelphis fabianii from Italy.

We also received a fresh copy of Giorgio Pilleri's enormous (if ponderous) and beautifully illustrated monograph on the Odontoceti of the early Miocene Belluno Sandstone of Italy.

 Labmate Yoshi Tanaka pulls out a bubble wrapped skull.

 Gorgeous! Yoshi and I ogling the the freshly unwrapped cast of the holotype of Squalodelphis fabianii.

It's like Christmas morning for a paleocetologist!

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