We’ve made a lot of progress the last few weeks on “Picasso”, the Carmel Church baleen whale we’ve been working on since last year. We’ve finally begun rebuilding the skull in our sandbox, and it’s starting to look more like a whale (above).
“Picasso” was in rough shape when we found it in 2005. While the skeleton was in good shape, the skull was in the weathered zone and had taken a lot of damage before we even found it. A freak snowstorm and plummeting temperatures in the middle of the excavation didn’t help. Finally, the skull was severely crushed, even by Carmel Church standards. With all these things lined up against it, I knew “Picasso” was going to be a challenge to prepare, and things have gone slowly.
What we have so far is the back end of the skull, with most of the floor of the braincase. The roof of the braincase (the supraoccipital) is present, but I’m still putting it back together. To help you get oriented, here’s the skull of “Sinistra”, our Diorocetus, with “Picasso” below in the same orientation for comparison (these images are to approximately the same scale :
“Picasso” is a somewhat larger whale than “Sinistra”, in addition to some differences in the shape of the squamosals (they are different species). Don’t let the morphology of “Sinistra” fool you on size; the back of its skull is somewhat deformed, and the zygomatic processes are more divergent, making it appear larger than it is.
For those of you interested in the technical details of baleen whale relationships, here’s a feature to ponder. The arrow in the image below is pointing to the posterior process of the periotic, which is so large that it’s just visible on the side of the skull even in dorsal view.