Stranded dolphin from Carmel Church

An early hypothesis we developed about the Carmel Church whale bonebed was that it was a mass-stranding event, where a lot of whales beached themselves at the same time. We have since rejected that hypothesis for a number of reasons. Even so, there is a single dolphin specimen that warrants a closer look.

This specimen consists of only a few vertebrae and ribs. Unlike most other bones from Carmel Church, the bones are abraided, and have numerous long cracks.

I believe the cracks in these bones were caused by desiccation, when the bones dried out in the sun. I think this dolphin stranded on the beach and dried out, the the body washed back out to sea where it was eventually buried.

While we know Carmel Church was close to the shore (from the geography, and the abundance of fossil plant material and land animals), this is the only specimen we’ve identified that shows evidence of desiccation.


A few days ago VMNH joined the “Shop for Museums” fundraising program. Today we joined a second program, called GoodSearch. GoodSearch is a search engine (like Google). However, for every search you do through their site, GoodSearch will donate 1 cent to the charity of your choice. Simply go to their site and select “Virginia Museum of Natural History” from their charity list. Searches for photos and for videos don’t count; the details are included on their site. I had the privilege of doing the first 3 searches for VMNH this morning. I’ve added a link to GoodSearch on the blog homepage.


For any readers close to Radford, I’ll be giving a lecture at Radford University’s Museum of the Earth Sciences this Thursday at 7:00 pm. The talk, which is free to the public, is entitled “B.D.W.’s–Using Big Dead Whales to Understand the Past.” It’s specifically about some of the discoveries made at Carmel Church.

This entry was posted in Carmel Church Quarry, Chesapeake Group and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Stranded dolphin from Carmel Church

  1. Doug says:

    The plot thickens! I remember you had mentioned specimens showing evidence of exposure before being buried. But it is interesting to find a stranded carcass. On my trip to the Barstow Fossil Beds (a field trip led by the Geology curators at the San Bernardino County Museum) and some had a question about burial and I mentioned Carmel Church. Quite fascinating figuring out how something got buried.

  2. Alton Dooley says:

    The Barstow beds, as an aside, are the same age as Carmel Church. Those beds define what is known as the Barstovian Land Mammal Age, and Carmel Church has land mammals from the same fauna.

  3. Doug says:

    And the San Bernardino County museum has one of (if not the largest) collections of fossils from the Barstow formation. And they even told us about the exhibit they are planning on the beds called “Barstow: It’s About time”. And interestingly, what Barstovian critters have the whales been mingling with at Carmel Church?

    Barstow Fossil Beds

  4. Doug says:

    Soory, link went all screwy. try this

    Owl Canyon
  5. Alton Dooley says:

    Nice photos of the Barstow. That looks like a fun field trip.

    The presence of the ash beds is significant, since they can be radiometrically dated, which allows calibration of the fossil deposits.

    Carmel Church has several land mammals, including the peccary Prosthennops xiphidonticus and the horse Calippus regulus, which are known from the late Barstovian. They’re described in the following paper:

    Dooley, A. C. Jr., 2007. Barstovian (middle Miocene) Land Mammals from the Carmel Church Quarry, Caroline County, Virginia. Jeffersoniana, No. 18, 17 p.

    The paper can be purchased from VMNH at:

    I think it costs about $2.00.

  6. Doug says:

    Unfortunately, i live on the opposite side of the country, so it’ll have to wait until you guys get that online store up. And speaking of fossil dolphins, here’s a local specimen (You’ll know it when you see it).

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