On January 6, while driving to Raleigh to examine NCSM’s Balaenula skull, I got a phone call from one of our volunteers, Virginia Tech student John Parker. John was standing in the middle of the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, and said he had found a possible sperm whale jaw weathering out of the Calvert Formation. He texted me a photo of the specimen to confirm the identification (above), and to see if VMNH would like to collect the specimen.
As I was just arriving at NCSM there was no way I could get to Westmoreland County before the next day, and with a snowstorm coming in that night we didn’t think the jaw would last 24 hours. Fortunately, while John was in high school he had participated in several excavations at Carmel Church and had assisted me in making numerous jackets, and he offered to try to remove the jaw himself. Thus began one of the strangest excavations I’ve ever been involved with. I couldn’t get a cell signal in NCSM’s collections room, so when John ran into problems he would text his questions to me. During the day I would find someplace where I could get a signal and text answers to him. By the end of (for him) a long, cold day he had successfully jacketed and removed the jaw.
Yesterday John delivered the jaw (in an excellently-made jacket) to VMNH, along with associated loose teeth and a few other remains. Here are two of the teeth:
They are the small, enamel-free sperm whale teeth that are found from time to time in the Calvert Formation, and typically referred to as Orycterocetus (although this genus is a bit problematic). They have occlusion wear facets at the tips, and are reminiscent of one of the sperm whale teeth we’ve found at Carmel Church.
This jacket is now sitting in the lab, and we’re going to start preparing it next week. Without John’s help and generosity, we would have lost this interesting specimen; thanks, John!