The second awesome thing that happened - I was recently (i.e. on Thursday) accepted into the Doctoral program at the University of Otago in New Zealand. I applied back in late July, and the plan is to start in January. I have the fantastic opportunity to work with Dr. R. Ewan Fordyce, who has offered me a chance to study eomysticetid fossils from the south island of New Zealand. Eomysticetids are a thus far poorly known group of early baleen whales, and constitute the earliest known and earliest diverging toothless baleen whales. So far, the only eomysticetids that have been described include Eomysticetus whitmorei and Eomysticetus carolinensis from the Oligocene of South Carolina, described by Larry Barnes and Al Sanders in 2002 in the Clayton Ray memorial volume. However, in that same volume, Barnes and Sanders name another new family of early diverging mysticetes they term the Micromysticetidae; they remove Cetotheriopsis tobieni from said genus and place it in the new genus Micromysticetus, to which they also name a new species from South Carolina, Cetotheriopsis rothauseni. This family also includes the taxon Cetotheriopsis lintianus. Anyway, Micromysticetus has almost always occurred as a sister taxon to Eomysticetus wherever included in phylogenetic analyses, and I would not be surprised if the Eomysticetidae were to include these even smaller taxa.
The holotype skull of Eomysticetus whitmorei from South Carolina (borrowed from the morphobank account for Ekdale et al., 2011).
The new material from New Zealand includes a collection of eight partial and complete crania, many with dentaries, earbones, and postcrania. In addition, two species of Mauicetus may be referable to the Eomysticetidae, and part of this project will revolve around trying to ascertain whether any of these new specimens represents referable material of Mauicetus; the skulls of the two holotypes of two Mauicetus species (not including Mauicetus parki, which is not an eomysticetid) are very incomplete or have been lost, but are still known from some earbones and postcrania (and photos of the skulls). One of my tasks will almost certainly be to determine whether or not any of this new material could be designated as a neotype specimen.
The clocktower at University of Otago.
All of that interesting paleocetaceanology aside, Sarah and I are going to New Zealand!!! We'll be living in the city of Dunedin on the south island. Above you can see a photo of the clock tower at the university; the campus there looks absolutely beautiful. Granted, Traphagen Hall at MSU Bozeman is a neat old building (but totally shitty inside), but I've seen photos of the Geology Building at OU, and it looks just like another Tudor stone castle like the main building pictured above. It looks totally awesome. Furthermore, unlike my previous 8 years of schooling in Montana, it doesn't get anywhere near as cold on the south island (although Dunedin is about as far south as you can get on the south island). And lastly, there are penguins that live there! There are penguins that have rookeries on the Otago Peninsula, within a 30 minute drive from campus! Blue/Fairy penguins, the smallest known species of penguin!
This is going to be a blast, and I have a lot of work to do to get there.