Even though I was technically still on vacation Friday, I came into the museum briefly to meet Chuck Lyon and his son Charlie, who were donating some whale remains to the museum. Last year Chuck collected some associated whale skull and rib fragments from Surry County, Virginia. Chuck contacted Carl Mehling at AMNH, who referred him to Jonathan Geisler and Brian Beatty at NYCOM, who referred him to me. After seeing the specimen and corresponding with Chuck, he agreed to donate the specimen to VMNH, but because of scheduling difficulties we didn’t actually receive the specimen until last week.
One of the reasons this whale is interesting is its age. Whales are uncommon in Virginia in sediments younger than the Calvert Formation, particularly in the Late Miocene. There are respectable numbers of whales from the lower part of the Yorktown Formation, which is from the Early Pliocene, but associated remains are rare (although there are large numbers of whale remains from the Yorktown at the Lee Creek Mine in North Carolina).
Unfortunately, this whale isn’t going to give up its secrets easily. Chuck sent me the image below; the whale was collected from the hole in the center. The red line marks the boundary between the Miocene Eastover Formation and the Pliocene Yorktown Formation. So which is the whale from?
The whale itself is limited to some fragments from the back of the skull, including the basioccipital and parts of the right exoccipital and squamosal, plus a few rib fragments. Fortunately the ear region is preserved, including the more-or-less complete right petrosal (top). Interestingly, an almost identical petrosal was included in the material Ron Ison donated to VMNH back in May (below). That material was collected from a river bottom, so the age is unknown, but we thought it came from either the Eastover or the Yorktown.
The Surry County whale is pretty clearly a balaenopterid. In fact, except for its small size it’s quite similar to some modern examples of the humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae, as can be seen in the images below. The Surry whale is on top, while below is a humpback whale from the USNM collections (the humpback image is the left petrosal; I’ve mirrored and rotated the image to make comparison easier):
Even though we didn’t get very much material from this whale, this is a nice and significant addition to our collections given how rare good material from this time period is in Virginia. I’d like to thank Chuck for making this donation, as well as Brian, Jonathan, and Carl from putting him in touch with VMNH.
*edited for typographical errors*