A gigantic skull has been recovered from cliffs on the edge of the river Potomac. At six-feet long and 1,000 pounds, paleontologists believe the skull once belonged to a long-extinct species of baleen whale that would have measured over 25 feet long when alive.
Top image courtesy of the Calvert Marine Museum.
The eroding river bank where the fossil was found is one of the world’s few Miocene cliffs, said Jim Schepmoes, Stratford’s spokesman, referring to the geological epoch 5 million to 23 million years ago.
Thousands of shark teeth have been found there, and the area is known to be rich in marine fossils. Whales are relatively common in the area, so the rogue bone has been found in the past.
“But to have such a large and complete specimen is pretty uncommon,” [said John Nance, paleontology collections manager at the Calvert Marine Museum in Southern Maryland]. “In a marine environment, the bones are usually scavenged and scattered all about... The really interesting thing,” he said, “is we have all the post-cranial material — the vertebrae, the ribs, the flipper bones. It will give us a more complete picture of what these animals looked like.”
Ancient, fossilized whale skulls aren't unheard of (back in 2010, researchers of the coast of Peru discovered an even bigger, 12-million-year-old skull thought to have belonged to a long-extinct species of sperm whale), but finding one in this condition is always outstanding news for researchers, whether their focus is in evolution, biogeography, or anatomy.
According to Schepmos, the whale is "about the biggest" fossil discovery ever made in the cliffs – and excavations are just beginning. A team intends to continue searching for the rest of this skeleton this week.
More details at WaPo.