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Neighborly love.

I like to collect fossil whales. Especially when there's a good chance that I'll find a new species. I've discovered six Middle Eocene, one Late Eocene, five Early Oligocene, and one Early Oligocene paratype whales. It's exciting to see an extinct animal that no person has ever seen before. I've discovered over 40 new species of animals to date. But the whales are by far the most interesting. This posting is about a whale that I found back in 1998. I had heard rumors that there was a deep drainage ditch, in a subdivision not far from where I lived, that had produced several pieces of fossil turtle shell. The problem was that there wasn't anywhere to park while I checked it out. The neighborhood was full of expensive homes and had a strict policy about parking on the street. My 1979 Mercury station wagon was sure to draw attention if parked unattended. I solved the problem by going to a church that had property along the drainage ditch. They allowed me to park on their property while I went exploring. The weather report said to expect strong thundershowers later in the afternoon so I figured I'd have a few hours of leisure hunting. The ditch was about six feet wide and seven feet deep. About three feet down the Ashley Formation started. This Early Oligocene Marine formation was a good source of whales. I had gone about 200 feet upstream when I came across a significant find. It was the edge of a whale scapula. These are exceedingly rare because they tend to get torn off by scavengers when the whale dies and is floating on the surface. The local museum had dozens of new whale species. But not a single scapula. I spent almost two hours removing a very large block of material. The scapula was about 16 inches long and 12 inches wide. To be safe I took a lot of extra material. After the plaster dried I carried it back to my car. During this time I had heard thunder and it had been growing louder. I figured I had just about one hour before it started raining so I decided to go back to the ditch. Since I was in a hurry I took red plastic tape and nailed it to the hard Ashley whenever I came across something of interest. That way I could come back later and go right to the fossils. I had walked about a quarter of a mile when the first raindrops arrived. Within minutes it had become a downpour. The ditch had become shallower as I went along so I decided to continue upstream and get out. I didn't want to be downstream if a torrent of water came rushing down the ditch. Just as I got to where the ditch was about four feet deep I noticed a hole in the Ashley where some bone was exposed. A closer look revealed a whale skull that was eroding out. I could see part of the frontals and immediately recognized that it was an Agorophiidae species. And that's when the water came. I scrambled out of the ditch and watched as the fossil rapidly disappeared under water. I marked the place and made it back to my car soaking wet. Back in 1847 the first Agorophiidae species was discovered here in the Low Country. It's the most primitive ancestor to the modern Odontocetes. Agorophius pygmaeus was later lost in a fire and another specimen was not found until 1996. These were small cetaceans with a skull about 15 inches long. I had a chance to return to the ditch the following weekend and was shocked to see that most of the back of the skull had washed away. I spent four hours removing the rest of the skull in a plaster jacket. I also discovered several vertebrae and a partial left mandible under the skull. This is where it got interesting. The smallest plaster jacket was almost 30 inches long by 18 inches wide. It was way too heavy for me to lift out of the ditch. I decided to go to the house that backed up to the ditch and see if anyone would help me move it. After explaining that I was removing a fossil whale for the local museum I was pulled into what I can only describe as a neighborhood party. The word was spread and before I knew what happened there were a dozen people helping me remove the whale. It was then loaded onto a large lawn tractor and I was driven in style, with a group of neighbors accompanying me, back to my car. After a lot of "Shark tooth" stories I was finally able to escape. It appears that every single person in the Low Country has found at least one shark tooth. I returned the next day and spent several hours searching downstream for the parts that had washed away. I was able to find enough pieces to reconstruct most of the back of the skull later. The most significant thing about this whale is it's size. The skull would have been over three feet long when alive. This is much larger than the previous Agoropdiidaes. Since then, another new species of small Agorophiidae has been discovered from the local Ashley formation.
Location Berkeley County, South Carolina, USA

ID745
Memberpaleobum
Date Added12/27/2006

This is the section of the whale skull that I removed in a plaster jacket. The back of the skull was also recovered downstream.
Notice the wide gape between the premaxilla. This is a primitive characteristic in whales.
This is the bottom of the skull. About half of the teeth were recovered.
The teeth are very robust.
  

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