Marine Mammal Fossil Discovered At Point Reyes

Marine Mammal Fossil Discovered At Point Reyes

Marine Mammal Fossil Discovered At Point Reyes

Vincent L. Santucci, NPS Geologic Resources Division

Excavating a freshly discovered marine mammal fossil at Point Reyes National Seashore.Paleontological fieldwork at Point Reyes National Seashore has resulted in the discovery and collection of a rare marine mammal fossil.

The specimen was discovered by paleontology intern Lillian Kennedy Pearson while evaluating coastal exposures of fossiliferous rocks at the national seashore. Lillian is a recent graduate from the Geology Department at Carleton College and was recruited to assist with a collaborative project between the NPS Geologic Resources Division and the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP).

The project is focused on developing strategies for long term monitoring of rapidly eroding fossil rich exposures along the coast at Point Reyes National Seashore.

In late May, paleontologist Robert Boessenecker, a research associate at UCMP specializing in marine mammal fossils, accompanied Lillian to assess the partially exposed remains preserved in the early Pliocene section of the Purisima Formation. Boessenecker immediately recognized the scientific significance and recommended the specimen be collected for preparation and scientific study.

During a two-day period, the fossil specimen was encased in a nearly 90-pound plaster jacket and transported along the beach to park headquarters with the assistance of NPS volunteer Kent Khtikian.

Transporting the newly excavated marine mammal fossil along the beach at Point Reyes National Seashore.

“The fossil specimen discovered at Point Reyes National Seashore is a small, short-beaked dolphin and probably represents a new species,” said Boessenecker.

Very few cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) have been described from the Purisima Formation and the recovery, preparation and study of this specimen will shed important new light upon Pliocene marine mammal biodiversity. The specimen will be reposited at UCMP.

Lillian’s internship was made possible through the NPS Geoscientists-in-the-Parks Program which is a youth initiative partnership with the Geological Society of America's GeoCorps America Program.

“The new fossil discovery at Point Reyes National Seashore represents a wonderful example of how our investment in youth initiatives and partnerships are benefitting science, parks, the public, and young scientists,” said Dr. Ray Sauvajot, NPS Associate Director, Natural Resource Stewardship and Science.