A teenager from Alabama, a teacher finds a 34-million-year-old whale skull on a farm
An Alabama teen digging for fossils on her ranch stumbled upon a massive find: a 34-million-year-old whale skull.
Lindsey Stallworth, a student at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science in Mobile, Alabama, has long been collecting fossils on her family’s farm, about 80 miles north of Mobile. In a press release from the school, Stallworth said she picked up fossil shark teeth and shells, “but we never knew anyone who could tell us anything about it.”
The 16-year-old brought some of her finds to her biology teacher, Drew Gentry, a paleontologist who has studied Alabama fossils since his childhood.
“I immediately recognized one of the fossil shark teeth that Lindsey had shown me, and wanted to know more about where she had found it,” Gentry said in the statement.
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Gentry traveled to the farm during the summer hoping to learn more about shark teeth, but instead he made a much larger discovery.
After only a few hours on the property, Gentry said he noticed small pieces of fossilized bone atop a small hill, and when he followed them, they “led straight into several large bones eroding from the soil.”
He didn’t know it at first, but it turned out that the bones belonged to a whale.
The teacher, student, and a few assistants spent most of June and July excavating some of the remains and returning them to the paleontology lab at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science for further study.
Gentry told AL.com that the whale appeared to be a smaller relative of Basilosaurus cetoides, an ancient and Alabama state fossil whale, and could be related to the zygorhiza whale, a smaller whale found in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
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The whale, which could be the first of its kind to be found in Alabama, is estimated to be about 20 feet long and could take three to four years to fully excavate.
John Ebersol, director of collections at the McQueen Science Center in Birmingham, confirmed to The Washington Post that the whale’s skull is about 34 million years old.
“It’s really hard to understand something that’s millions of years old, but it made a lot more sense once we started removing the dirt and seeing what the skull looked like,” Stallworth told the newspaper.
Due to the whale’s size, the team has so far only recovered the skull, but Gentry said he plans to return to Stallworth Ranch next summer to continue the excavation.