Balaenula update

Laura Kellam and I returned to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences yesterday to meet with Vince Schneider for further examination of the Balaenula skull from Lake Waccamaw. Craig Fitzpatrick has been fabricating and armature to support the cranium, and with most of the structure no in place we can get much cleaner photos of the reconstructed skull.

Here’s a lateral view, showing nicely the extreme arching the the upper jaws in right whales:

Later we pulled the skull off the armature and rebuilt is ventral side up (without the premaxillae and nasals):

With the skull flipped over, and using several modern right whales in the NCSM collection for comparison, we were able to attach some additional fragments to the ventral side of the skull, including part of the right palatine (outlined in red):

The palatine is a thin, delicate bone and we were lucky to recover any of it. Most fossil right whale specimens are missing the palatines.

We made a lot of progress yesterday measuring and describing this specimen, and should have lots more to report in the coming months.

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3 Responses to Balaenula update

  1. whale name says:

    hope you will name the FIND after the ones who actually dug it up and begged for it to be dated > Neilson, Bryant ,Collette I was told this would be considerated. We aRE friends of lake waccamaw state park!

  2. boesse says:

    man, that skull is pretty impressive! Too bad its missing the apices of the zygomatics and the supraorbital processes. The rostrum is in pretty great shape, though.

  3. Alton Dooley says:

    @boesse: We’re also missing the distal ends of the premaxillae, but it is a remarkably complete skull. I was blown away when I saw it.

    The loss of the zygomatic arches and supraorbitals is frustrating, since those are among the most important areas in diagnosing Balaenula. Even so, we’re pretty confident in the genus assignment.

    @whale name: It’s still a bit early to even be thinking about the name. A specimen only receives a name if it’s a new species that hasn’t been seen before. We still haven’t confirmed that with this specimen. There are two other named species of Balaenula that are well established, one from Belgium and one from Italy. It’s still quite possible that this skull belongs to one of those species. If it turns out that this species is different from either of those, then a new name will be required.

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