15-Million-Year-Old, 1000-Pound Baleen Whale Skull Unearthed Along The Potomac River In Virginia [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on August 6, 2013 5:08 PM EDT

whale skull
A 15-million-year old whale skull, which paleontologists believe belonged to a baleen whale, was recently unearthed in Stratford, Va. (Photo: Calvert Marine Museum)

A 15 million-year-old, 1,000-pound whale skull has been unearthed at the banks of the Potomac River in Stratfield, Va.

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The rare 6-foot-long whale skull belonged to an extinct type of baleen whale, paleontologists believe, and was found on the grounds of a place already steeped in history: Stratford Hall Plantation, the birthplace and home of Robert E. Lee.

The Stratford Cliffs, where the whale skull was found, date from the Miocene era, whichlasted from about 23 million to 5 million years ago. Numerous fossils have been discovered at the Cliffs over the years.

John Nance, paleontology collections manager at the Calvert Marine Museum, which is holding onto the whale skull, told the Huffington Post how rich the area was in marine life millions of years ago.

"The Potomac as we know it today wasn't here 15 million years ago," John Nance, paleontology collections manager at the Calvert Marine Museum. "There were baleen whales, toothed whales like dolphins, dugongs, turtles, sharks and crocodiles all living in the area at this time."

While countless shark teeth and even some whale bones have been found around Stratford Cliffs in the past, uncovering such a perfect whale fossil is rare.

"To have such a large and complete specimen is pretty uncommon," Nance said. "In a marine environment, the bones are usually scavenged and scattered all about." Nance added that the interesting thing about this fossil is that "we have all the post-cranial material--the vertebrae, the ribs, the flipper bones. It will give us a more complete picture of what these animals looked like."

The whale skull was discovered in June, when Jon Bachman, a staff member at Stratford Hall, spotted part of the whale skull in the Cliffs. Members from the Calvert Marine Museum, who had been working nearby, started digging out the fossil, fully exposing it on July 20.

It was in June when the first indication of skull was found. Jon Bachman, one of the staff members at Stratford Hall, was walking along the beach, who indicated about the thing. Digging act was carried out and the fossil emerged that was wrapped in plaster and burlap.

The paleontologists believe that the whale was 25 feet long. Nance and his team will be cleaning and examining the whale skull over the next few weeks, trying to make a positive determination about the species. More of the whale fossil is still in the Cliffs, and in about two weeks the entire fossil should be removed and examined.

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