“Picasso” vertebrae

Just before I left for Carmel Church, we opened the jacket containing the vertebral column of “Picasso”. Volunteer Ward Littlefield worked on preparing that material while I was in the field, and the initial results are pretty stunning (above).

We recovered the first 13 vertebrae from “Picasso”. The first vertebra was removed separately (we needed to have a gap between the skull and the vertebral column so we could make two jackets). The next twelve are labeled below:

There are some interesting things going on here. Number 8 (the first thoracic vertebra) is labeled with a question mark. That vertebra is broken, and so far I can’t get the pieces to go together to make one vertebra. It’s possible, if unlikely, that there are two partial vertebrae there, which means we would have 14 total instead of 13. Numbers 10 and 12 are also broken in half.

I’ve labeled two vertebrae as coming from other whales. The one on the right I’m sure is from a different animal, but there’s a chance the one on the left could be from “Picasso”; it’s in line with the rest of the column, and there is a broken neural spine sitting next to it.

Here’s a closeup of the area between Numbers 5 and 6:

The blade-like bone between the vertebrae appears to be a partial squamosal from a baleen whale. Since we already have both of “Picasso’s” squamosals, this would be from a different individual.

Here’s another closeup, of Numbers 9-11 (thoracics 2-4):

Notice the thin plates of bone on some of the vertebrae. These are loose vertebral epiphyses; the fact that they haven’t fused to the corresponding vertebrae indicates that the vertebrae were still growing. In whales, the anterior thoracics are the last vertebrae to fuse their epiphyses. Since the more anterior and more posterior epiphyses here are fused, that suggests that even though “Picasso” wasn’t quite done growing, he or she was probably a young adult, or an adolescent at the youngest. Even so, it’s noteworthy that “Sinistra”, which is quite a bit smaller than “Picasso”, was fully adult with all the epiphyses fused.

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4 Responses to “Picasso” vertebrae

  1. Doug says:

    If the one on the left isn’t from Picasso, then how does a vertebrae from a separate animal come to rest at the end of an articulated series of vertebra?

    Also, have you heard about the newest marine mammal on the block? it’s insane:

  2. Alton Dooley says:

    Well, that’s all we found from Picasso, so from a preservational standpoint it’s at the end of the skeleton. But in addition, there’s always another vertebra at Carmel Church. It seems that about 30% of our vertebrae are from clearly associated or articulated specimens, which means that all the rest are just laying around among the skeletons. Half of the vertebrae that came from the 5 Sinistra jackets were from other whales.

    I heard about Leviathan; very cool specimen.

  3. boesse says:

    That looks like an absolute headache. At least the sediment is soft… and, that looks relatively undisturbed relative to some other jackets you’ve shown us (i.e. this guy’s “head”).

  4. Alton Dooley says:

    Not a headache at all; this is a gorgeous specimen by Calvert standards. The articulation is pretty nice. Just as a teaser, one thing we’re looking at right now is what controls whether a skeleton at Carmel Church is articulated, associated, or disarticulated (since we find all three). Hopefully we’ll have some reportable results in a few months.

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