After a long delay, I can finally circle back to continue an on-going story.
Previously (see Part 1, and links therein), I mentioned the discovery of a strange fossil toothed whale skull on the Caribbean coast of Panama.
The story continues early last year, when the skull and Dioselina, its discoverer, arrived at NMNH. Dioselina had earned a fellowship from STRI with the specific purpose to learn preparation techniques in vertebrate paleontology in the VP Prep Lab at NMNH, and then apply those skills to assist in the preparation of the skull from Piña.
Dioselina and Jorge open field bags and organize fragmentary bones and teeth associated with the skull from Piña. Note the use of fieldnotes! (Photo NDP)
Dioselina tackled the challenges of a new city, a different language, and a learning a new set of scientific tools with aplomb. When she left last summer, she had finished freeing the final elements from the rock that encased them, and we were left with a shoulder blade, a complete jaw (with a full set of teeth), and more than 1/2 of the skull. The specimen is now USNM 546125.
The same plaster jacket from above, several days later into its preparation. We were still unaware that it contained a shoulder blade. (Photo Dioselina Vigil)
The scapula, now revealed. (Photo Dioselina Vigil)
An interesting fact we discovered along the way: the Piña skull's not a squalodontid. (Not by a taxonomic mile). The teeth that we saw in the field, and from the original field photos, were somewhat similar, overall, to the classic squalodont teeth that have been known for hundreds of years. But many of the details of the skull revealed during preparation -- especially in the bones underlying the blowhole -- lead us to think that this individual was more closely related to Amazon River dolphins. We hope to say more, and with a stronger scientific basis, when we report on the skeletal material in more detail in the future.
The story doesn't end there. (And Part 3 will come much sooner than Part 2!). But, while you wait, please go check out Jorge's latest adventures...in Panama! After completing and defending his dissertation last year, Dr. Velez-Juarbe is now a PCP-PIRE postdoctoral fellow for the University of Florida. The majority of his focus will be on collecting and describing fossils from Panama while training the next generation of Panamanian paleontologists. (Including a return to the Piña locality!).