We’ve made a lot of progress on our Carmel Church whale skull in the last few weeks, to the point that we’ve started removing the first small fragments from the field jacket and reconstructing them, as shown above. However, to explain what these pieces are, we need a short lesson in whale anatomy.
On the left is a drawing of the skull of the baleen whale Aglaocetus patulus, shown from above (dorsal view); the front of the skull is at the top. On the right is a dog skull shown in the same orientation.
Even though their shapes are very different, the two skulls are made up of the same bones. The bones that make up most of the upper jaw (or rostrum) are called the premaxillae and the maxillae (singular: premaxilla and maxilla), as indicated on the drawing. In the dog (and all mammals that have teeth) these bones carry the teeth. Baleen whales have lost their teeth, but their fossil ancestors had teeth in these bones.
Notice how the whale’s maxillae and premaxillae are very long, and extend far back on the skull. This is part of a phenomenon called telescoping, and is found in all but the earliest whales.
Above are the Carmel Church skull fragments next to Aglaocetus. Obviously we have a long way to go! Notice that the premaxille in the two whales have different shapes. Aglaocetus has been found in Virginia, and is the same age as the sediments at Carmel Church, but the whale we are working on is some other species.
As we reconstruct more of the Carmel Church whale, I’ll post updates similar to this one to show our progress.