Calvert Cliffs fossil recovered

Skull is extinct dolphin, not whale

September 14, 2010|By Frank D. Roylance, The Baltimore Sun

The ancient "whale" skull discovered eroding from the clay at Calvert Cliffs last spring is actually that of an extinct species of dolphin.

Scientists and volunteers extracted the 16 million-year-old fossil from the cliffs over the weekend. They revealed what paleontologist Stephen Godfrey of the Calvert Marine Museum tentatively identified Tuesday as a Eurhinodelphinid, an odd-looking marine mammal with a long, slender upper snout and a lower jaw about half that length.

"It looks a little like a swordfish," he said. "They may have used this snout to stir around in the mud to scare up creatures, or to slash through schools of fish." The portion of the skull first exposed was "massive, really robust," the reason scientists initially mistook it for that of a small whale.

Museum officials credited local amateur collectors Tony Holt, James "Max" Bovis and Rick LeDoux with spotting the fossil last spring, alerting the museum and then protecting it from damage until the museum could secure permission to dig, and make the site safe.

"These three men did everything by the book," said John Nance, the Calvert museum's paleontology collections manager. "We hope that other collectors will follow suit as other fossils become exposed."

Students from the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology assisted with the dig.

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

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