How many ears?

For the last few months we’ve been preparing one of the whale skulls from Carmel Church. This specimen was found immediately beside our Diorocetus specimen; the rib cages from the two whales overlapped each other. This was actually the first of four whale skulls collected from this particular pit, which only measures approximately 20 feet by 8 feet.

Preparation has been slow on this specimen, because it had weathered pretty heavily before it was collected. The skull is also badly crushed, with some elements shifted and rotated at odd angles relative to the rest of the skull (leading Brett to name it “Picasso”). Even so we have been making steady progress, and last week we removed the tympanic bullae (part of the ear region).

But there is a problem; we actually found three tympanic bullae, shown above. I don’t, however, think this is an aberrant whale that had three ears! The bulla on the left is fairly different in morphology from the other two, and belongs to a different whale (in spite of the fact that these three bones were all found actually touching each other). I believe the two bullae on the right are the ones that actually belong to this skull.

That doesn’t quite end the mystery, since all three of these bullae were found in a little pile on the dorsal side of the skull, sitting more or less above the right eye socket. I’m not sure how they got there, but in our Diorocetus specimen the earbones were also sitting in the vicinity of the right eye. Of course, we haven’t yet prepared the ventral side of “Picasso”, so it’s possible that the tympanic bullae are there, and that none of these bones belong to this whale.

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

5 Responses to How many ears?

  1. 220mya says:

    Wait – I’m very confused. First you say that the “the bulla on the left is fairly different in morphology from the other two”, but then you say that you “believe the two bullae on the left are the ones that actually belong to the skull.” So which one doesn’t belong – the bulla on the far left or the far right? Because right now your statements are contradictory.

  2. Alton Dooley says:

    It was a typo–I’ve fixed it. I meant the two on the right, not the left.

  3. Doug says:

    I hadn’t caught that, but i thought it was a bit off, since the one on the left looked different from the other two.

    How many of those skulls have you prepped?

  4. Alton Dooley says:

    Total from Carmel Church, we’ve more-or-less fully prepped three skulls, and partially prepped three others (none of these are 100% complete skulls, but all at least 50%). From this particular pit, we’ve fully prepped one and partially prepped one; the other two are still in jackets (one was just collected two weeks ago). Unfortunately, the other two are not as well preserved.

    I think we’ve pulled 7 mysticete tympanic bullae out of this pit so far, three of which can be attributed to particular skulls (1 from Diorocetus, and 2 from “Picasso”).

  5. I’m always glad to hear of fossils being prepped.

    My silly suggestion, presented here for its entertainment value: a caveman was collecting bullae, prising them off washed-up corpses as he strolled along the shore. Perhaps some carcasses were only partly accessible and he could extract only a single bulla. His motive? He had perhaps found that these could be made into melodious ocarinas, and aspired to found an ocarina-orchestra; or else he surmised that they were marketable as chic bling, and wanted to corner the market.

    He rested some he had already found atop this skull, taking a well-earned break, when he was distracted (by a passing beach-babe, perhaps; or a spouse saying ‘you needn’t think you’re bringing all that smelly junk home with us’).. or perhaps he was eaten.

    His collection was subsequently buried with the rest of this skeleton and so it was found.. three bullae all together.

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