I’ve had one of those crazy weeks that has delayed posting a new entry, but hopefully today’s post will make up for it. A few days ago volunteer Jeff Sparks informed me that he had found a fossil whale eroding out of a cliff on the Rappahannock River, and that it appeared to be a sperm whale. This grabbed my attention, because sperm whales are one of the rarest of all whale fossils; fewer than 20 fossil skulls (of all species) are known worldwide. Moreover, this seemed to be a sperm whale that had large teeth with enamel crowns (modern sperm whales don’t have enamel). These are rare even by sperm whale standards.This morning, Tim, volunteer Carter Harrison, and I met Jeff (seen above with his discovery) at a boat ramp and cruised up the rather choppy Rappahannock to the site. Jeff’s identification was spot-on, and the remains were better than I had expected. It appears that at least the lower jaws and part of the skull are preserved, as well as a large number of teeth. Three of these teeth are visible in the photo at the top, and here is one after excavation:
This tooth is especially unusual because of the strange wear pattern. Half of the enamel crown (on the right) has been worn away, and there is a deep groove cutting across the root. I believe this groove was worn by the opposing tooth in the other jaw rubbing against it.
I’ll post more updates about this whale in the coming days.