My wife got me a pretty unique birthday present this year. Instead of a normal gift she sponsored the restoration of a whale rib.
This weekend the donors participated in the unveiling of Basilosaurus isis reconstruction at the University of Michigan’s Paleontology Museum. We are talking about a massive animal here, 45 feet long, it didn’t really fit in the range of my camera.
I talked briefly with Dr. Phillip Gingerich and learned some interesting things about B. isis. First of all, it took a month to dig out, and 2 years to get it exported out of Egypt. Another year to do casting and molding, and they have another year to go of studying it before it can finally be returned to Egypt.
There are over 1,000 specimens of ancient whales in Wadi Al-Hitan, but to find one that is so complete is unique, he considers the area more magnificent than the pyramids, and hopes that in the future that someone will build a museum so the whales can be observed in their own natural habitat (which is now a desert, heh).
The bones themselves weigh over a ton, so it’d be impossible to mount the real bones in such a manner. It is quite impressive to see a whale the length of a bus hanging above your head though.
Dr. Gingerich considers basilosaurus unique. It was the first whale we found with those little feet in the back (hard to see in the picture of the skeleton), and more curiously, a complete evolutionary dead end. A torpedo-looking eel-like whale with a monster head with teeth is unlike anything we have today. What happened? This was likely a top predator of it’s day, why did it go extinct? How did other whales make it but not this kind? Those are all interesting questions.
Anyway I am glad I had a small part of preserving this kind of thing so kids can ask these sorts of questions when they see it at the museum.
Since I was in the neighborhood I took an opportunity to pose with a ginormous sauropod leg (that’s the hip behind me)