Sometimes, in paleontology, serendipity can take you a long way.
(A sequence of our field work, putting a plaster jacket on the fossil, working in the tidally influenced field locality. NDP in the gray ballcap, Jorge in the yellow cap, and Dioselina Vigil, the skull's discoverer, in the background of the top picture. Photo credit: Aaron O'Dea, STRI/Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology)
Less than a month later, Jorge and I were on a flight to Panama, with the specific purpose to recover the skull of a fossil toothed whale from a late Miocene site along the Caribbean coast. Our friendly hosts and collaborators at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) played an important role, and we were able to prospect the exposed rocks with some extra time and eyes, finding some more surprises.
Read more about the first part of this story, on the Panama side, which was posted on the Smithsonian's Ocean Portal, including:
- A slideshow featuring photos snapped along the way;
- And a time-lapse video of the excavation site. We had to work fast!
(The skull as it appeared in 2010, under water. The snout extends to the left, and the inside of the braincase is to the right. Photo credit: Dioselina Vigil, STRI/Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology)
We initially thought that the skull belonged to a squalodontid, an extinct group of toothed whales that are best known from the Miocene of Maryland and Virginia, but we now think otherwise. That story, about how the skull traveled to NMNH, involves its discoverer, Dioselina Vigil, and highlights her internship in the Department of Paleobiology's Vertebrate Paleontology preparation lab. Check back soon for Part 2 of this story.