A few weeks ago I introduced “Buttercup“, a partial skull of a baby specimen of the baleen whale Diorocetus hiatus (shown above with “Sinistra“, which is from the same species). “Buttercup” was named in part for a character from the Cartoon Network show “The Powerpuff Girls“. However, in the show there are actually 3 Powerpuff Girls (Buttercup, Blossom, and Bubbles), so we really needed at least 2 more baby whales. Carmel Church always provides…
For several months we’ve been preparing a Carmel Church jacket that was collected in 2010, which contained a small odontocete (toothed whale) lower jaw. There was a comment in my field notebook that there was also possible cranial material in the jacket, and when we opened the jacket I immediately saw a small basioccipital that I suspected belonged to the same dolphin as the lower jaw. Ray, James, and Ward recently finished removing the material from the jacket, and while there was indeed skull material, it wasn’t a dolphin:
This is another tiny baleen whale, which we’ve nicknamed “Blossom” (another Powerpuff Girl)! We’ve recovered most of the right squamosal and parietal, the basioccipital, part of the left pterygoid, and parts of the supra occipital and frontal (anterior is at the top in the photo). While they’re not shown in this photo, we also have the nearly complete right petrosal and tympanic bulla, plus a number of rostral bones (I’m not yet sure that the rostral bones all belong to this animal). “Blossom” is larger than “Buttercup”, but not by much, and like “Buttercup” it has fallen apart along the cranial sutures. Incidentally, while I’m not yet sure what taxon “Blossom” represents, it’s certainly not Diorocetus, and therefore not the same as “Buttercup”.
Looking at these two tiny whales reminded me of another specimen that I hadn’t looked at in years. When I first started working full-time at VMNH I had been sorting through some boxes of Carmel Church material collected in the 1990’s, and I vaguely remembered a box that included a partially prepared baleen whale petrosal and various vertebrae and tiny skull fragments that appeared to be from an odontocete. After “Blossom” reminded me of these bones we found them in the collection and completed cleaning them, to find this:
This is the left petrosal, squamosal, and exoccipital of yet another baleen whale, which we nicknamed “Bubbles”. This photo is the ventral side, anterior to the top, with the posterior process of the petrosal adjacent to the 7 cm mark on the scale.
“Bubbles” appears to be the smallest of the bunch, a truly tiny whale. Below is “Bubbles” in dorsal view, sitting behind “Picasso“. These represent almost the exact same part of the skull; the only parts in this “Picasso” fragment that “Bubbles” is lacking is the postglenoid process and zygomatic process on the squamosal at the bottom, the basioccipital underneath, and the partial parietal (and maybe alisphenoid) at the anterior end (anterior is to the left):
In fact, I estimate that the maximum width of “Bubbles'” skull was only about 20-24 cm, probably making it the smallest baleen whale I’ve ever seen. So far I don’t have an identification on “Bubbles”, but there are some similarities between it and “Blossom”.
For a long time I thought we had very few young whales at Carmel Church, even though we would fairly frequently find free vertebral epiphyses indicating an immature animal. Certainly “Caroline“, “Sinistra“, and “Popeye” were all adults. We knew the “Nemo” was a very young whale, and “Picasso” was likely an adolescent, but those were the only sub-adult cranial material we had identified (and “Picasso” was nearly adult). But with the addition of the “Powerpuff Girls” it looks like there are plenty of baby whales at Carmel Church, but the skulls are so disarticulated that it’s hard to spot them in the field.
We’re still working on all three of these specimens. There is a chance we could have more of “Blossom” in the adjacent jacket, which has yet to be opened. There is also unprepared material collected very close to “Buttercup”, as well as a possibility that more of it could still be in the ground; we’re reopening that pit later this month. But in the meantime, we now have enough of “Buttercup” to determine the skull width, and since we determined that it’s Diorocetus, we have a more complete specimen (“Sinistra”) that we can use to model the missing parts of the skull. To that end, Ray has begun making molds of the “Buttercup” fragments we’ve collected so far, and hopefully in a few months we’ll have a reconstruction of “Buttercup’s” skull: