Nearly 20 years after College of Charleston alumnus Jonathan Geisler ’95 took Geology Professor James Carew’s paleobiology class, the two are working together again. Geisler and Carew have made a tremendous evolutionary discovery based on the fossil of a previously unknown whale species found in the Charleston area.
Alumnus Mark Havenstein of Lowcountry Geologic and another local fossil collector initially found the fossil, which was later sold to fossil-collector Mace Brown. Brown prepared the fossil himself and invited Carew and Geisler to come see it years before he donated his fossil collection to the College in 2013.
“The skull of this creature has significant sinuses and other features, such as skull asymmetry and telescoping that most likely allowed it to echolocate,” Carew said. “The question, scientifically, has been, ‘When did the ability for whales to echolocate arise,’ and this roughly 28-million-year-old whale has numerous features in the skull that suggest it had the capability of echolocation.”
With help from colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), specifically T. Holden, and co-author Matthew Colbert of the University of Texas at Austin, Geisler and Carew had the C. macei fossil CT-Scanned and then digitized as a 3-D model. Using both the fossil and the 3-D model, the team gathered additional evidence to support their conclusion that the cavities were used to facilitate echolocation.