Smithsonian visit

I began a three-day visit to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History today. More specifically I spent most of the morning in “Building 26“, the warehouse in Maryland where many of the NMNH whales are housed. A huge portion of the National Museum’s collections are stored at several off-sites, because the museum buildings on the National Mall are far to small to hold everything.

I’m specifically visiting so I can look at Calvert and Choptank formation baleen whales, such as Pelocetus (top). I believe all the type specimens of Calvert Formation whales are stored in just five museums, but the majority are at the Smithsonian.

Just after lunch I received an additional consultation on the whales, in the form of an invasive species checking out my iPad:

After some brief excitement, Dave Bohaska (who was escorting me around the facility) performed a successful capture-and-release on my fellow whale enthusiast.

After about 5 hours with the whales, I returned downtown on the Smithsonian shuttle to visit the museum’s Cullman Library, which holds the museum’s rare books collection. Daria Wingreen-Mason retrieved a hard-to-find volume of plates of fossil whales by P.-J. van Beneden, published in 1878:

These plates include images of the type specimen of Balaenula balaenopsis, the first species of Balaenula to be described. I’ve needed to see these images to compare them to the Lake Waccamaw Balaenula skull (since I don’t have the money to fly to Belgium to see the original specimens). As with many publications from this period, the drawings themselves are works of art:

I spent well over an hour in the library, pouring over van Beneden’s volume. Tomorrow I return to the whale warehouse to look at more mysticetes, including the Smithsonian’s specimens of Balaenula.

Thanks to Dave and Daria for all their help today.

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