|Cody and family at the site
While combing Matoaka Beach for fossils and shark teeth, Pennsylvania resident, Cody Goddard, made a fascinating discovery. A large hardened block of sediment lying on the beach had an unusual fossil protruding from one end (Photo 1).
After further investigation, Goddard realized he had stumbled upon a Miocene fossil whale skull. He then reached out to Dr. Stephen Godfrey, Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum (CMM), who confirmed, by way of a video text, that the fossil encased in the sediment was indeed a whale skull and quickly made the trip to visit the fossil’s location in person.
Moving the 650 lb. block of sediment safely from the beach to the museum was no small task. Godfrey and team devised a plan to extract the residue from the beach first by small pontoon boat, then by truck (Photo 2) to CMM’s Fossil Preparation Lab, located in the Paleontology Hall inside the museum.
|The skull ready for extraction
The extraction took place Monday, December 19th, with a team of paleontology enthusiasts \ including Goddard, who traveled down to share in the excitement. Godfrey said, “It felt like we had won the World Cup of Paleontology! We are blessed to have many avocational and professional paleontologists locally.”
“We don’t yet know what species of Miocene baleen whale this is,” says Godfrey, “We will only know once it has been prepared. It might even be our greatest preparation challenge, depending on how indurated the entombing sediments are.” The affectionately christened “Cody” skull is the most complete fossil whale skull ever recovered from that section of Calvert Cliffs.
The unprepared “raw” fossil skull can be seen on a blue hydraulic cart in the museum’s Fossil Preparation Lab. Air scribe-like tools (like miniature jackhammers) will be used to delicately remove the very hardened sediments that encase most of the skull. That process, undertaken by our volunteers, will take many months. Once the bones that make up the top of the skull are uncovered, we should then be able to identify it, if it is a currently known species of Miocene baleen whale.
This is, of course, the whale skull that we saw on Matoaka Cottages beach for the last several weeks, in fact, I'm pretty sure we met Cody the day they found it. We looked at it a few times, it was apparent that there was a big piece of bone in the big clay block, but while I might have guessed it was a skull, I don't know enough to be sure. At one point, there was discussion that a helicopter from Pax River or Norfolk would be used to lift it out, but apparently pilots looked at where it was (right next to a tall cliff and trees) and decided that a fossil wasn't worth the risk. There was a Facebook post from CMM a few days ago, which said the block weighed 650 lbs when they took it out.