North Carolina Balaenula

After a week of vacation and making a dent in overdue paperwork, I’m finally getting to do some real paleontology again. I spent all day yesterday at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, looking at the remarkable specimen of the right whale Balaenula
 from Lake Waccamaw State Park.

This time we were joined by Roanoke College student Laura Kellam, who is helping to document and describe this specimen (below, measuring one of the massive nasal bones):

The primary goal for the day was to reconstruct the skull so the the exhibit fabricators could begin detailed design of a support armature. This sounds like a simple task, but it took six people half a day to get it right. At the same time it gave Laura and me a chance to get photos and measurements of the dorsal side of the skull (top of page).

The dorsal view doesn’t do justice to the incredible arching of the skull in right whales, which increases the volume of the mouth and allows for a larger filtering area in the baleen plates. That’s much better appreciated in the oblique anterior view below, but even here the full extent of the arch isn’t really visible, since the anterior tips of the premaxillae are worn away:

Laura and I still have to describe and photograph the ventral side of the skull and the dentaries, which will take place during additional trips to Raleigh over the next couple of months. Lake Waccamaw State Park hopes to place the specimen on exhibit later this year.

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5 Responses to North Carolina Balaenula

  1. DBP says:

    Way to go Laura!!! RC is proud of you…

  2. Doug says:

    Sorry i have been such a ghost around here.

    Anyway, cool skull. There’s a right whale at the San Diego Museum that’s also a great example of that curving jaw.

  3. Alton Dooley says:

    Good to hear from you, Doug. We’ve missed you around here!

    The modern balaenids, Balaena and Eubalaena, seem to have even more strongly arched upper jaws than Balaenula. This particular specimen may have a stronger arch than the Italian Balaenula specimen, but we’re still evaluating that.

  4. Boesse says:

    That is a really beautiful specimen! I’m looking forward to a publication on it…

    This is probably the most complete Balaenula specimen from the east coast, then? It looks like its in better shape than the holotype of Balaena ricei, as far as you can judge from the figures in the SCP article.

  5. Alton Dooley says:

    This is the only Balaenula skull from the east coast; the other specimens are isolated tympanic bullae, periotics, and cervical series. It’s also a more complete skull than Balaena ricei, but B. ricei includes a lot of post cranial material.

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