New whale donation

Last week Elizabeth Moore and Brad Harris attended and Archaeological Society of Virginia meeting, and returned to VMNH with a whale skull. The specimen was collected by Wayne Edwards, and transferred to VMNH by the ASV.

The specimen is a fragment of a baleen whale skull, including most of the left squamosal and exoccipital, seen above in dorsal view. The heavy, divergent zygomatic process (on the right side in this image) is reminiscent of the balaenopteroid whales, which include the modern rorquals such as the fin whale.

Here’s the ventral side. Most of the periotic is missing, but its posterior process is present. It’s long and fairly slender, again consistent with a balaenopteroid.

This specimen was collected from the Nottoway River in Southampton County, Virginia, but unfortunately it didn’t come with any additional locality information, which makes determining the age tricky. Most of the deposits along the Nottoway are either the Late Miocene Eastover Formation (7 Ma), or Early Pliocene Sunken Meadow Member of the Yorktown Formation (4.5 Ma). Both of these units have produced balaenopteroid whales. There are bits of sediment stuck to the skull in a few places that include some small phosphate pebbles (below). As the Sunken Meadow includes a fossiliferous phosphatic lag at its base, it’s perhaps a more likely source for this bone.

Even with the uncertainties concerning the age, this is still a nice addition to our collection, as it’s the only whale at VMNH from the Nottoway River. I’d like to thank Mr. Edwards and ASV for the donation.

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