How we spent our Spring Break

By Sarah Boessenecker (@tetrameryx)

Spring break: a time for fun, relaxation, road trips, and partying… for students at least. For visiting researchers Dr. Morgan Churchill and Dr. Brian Beatty, it was a prime time to visit the collections at CCNHM and work on some of the fossils we have here.

Churchill, a post-doc student at New York Institute of Technology (@nyit) was in Charleston all last week researching the cetacean material we have here at CCNHM. Using a 3D laser scanner, Churchill was able to ‘map’ the skulls of various whale and dolphin specimens, to be used for studying the evolution of cranial telescoping of early whales and dolphins. Churchill has visited numerous museum collections to obtain data from multiple specimens to be used for many future projects.

Morgan Churchill prepping an Eosqualodon for laser scanning. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Morgan Churchill prepping an Eosqualodon for laser scanning. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Laser lighting on Eosqualodon makes for a menacing sight. Photo by R. Boessenecker

Laser lighting on Eosqualodon makes for a menacing sight. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Morgan Churchill scanning one of our toothed mysticetes. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Morgan Churchill scanning one of our toothed mysticetes. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

“Laser scanning is a powerful tool that allows 3D models to be built of any specimen, which can then be uploaded onto the internet and shared with researchers around the world,” said Churchill, who will be visiting the Charleston Museum later this summer as well, where he will work to train the staff there on 3D scanning.

Brian Beatty, another researcher at NYIT visited the CCNHM collections later in the week. Beatty works with dentitions of dugongs, sirenians, and whales, and came to look specifically at some of our toothed mysticetes.

Morgan Churchill and Brian Beatty during the scanning of our Micromysticetus baleen whale braincase. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Morgan Churchill and Brian Beatty during the scanning of our Micromysticetus baleen whale braincase. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Brian Beatty describing the how's and why's of tooth measurements. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Brian Beatty describing the hows and whys of tooth measurements. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Brian Beatty measuring the jaws of one of our toothed mysticetes. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Brian Beatty measuring the jaws of one of our toothed mysticetes. Photo by R. Boessenecker.

“I came to Charleston from Long Island, NY solely to study the collection of fossil whales at the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History,” said Beatty. “I’m working with colleagues in NY and Charleston to understand the early diversification of whales. The specimens in Charleston are pivotally important to this study, as they represent an unusually diverse group of the earliest forms of toothed and baleen whales, including unusual primitive toothed baleen whales. As a specialist on teeth, this collection is especially interesting and compelling. There is no collection like this anywhere else.”

The collections at CCNHM are one of only a handful of locations in the world to house Oligocene whales and dolphins, and these specimens are key towards understanding the early evolution of baleen whales and toothed whales (dolphins, porpoises). We can’t wait to see the results from this visit, and any future visits!

 

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