Friday Fossil Feature – An Over-Whale-Ming Donation!

By Sarah Boessenecker (@tetrameryx)


Happy Fossil Friday!


Mark with his gigantic Basilosaurus vert – kindly donated to the CCNHM! Photo by R. Boessenecker.

Today we’re writing to thank local fossil collector, and founder of the Palmetto Paleontological Society, Mark Bunce.

Mark has a passion for fossils, and started our local fossil club 2 years ago; over the years, Mark has made numerous donations to CCNHM, and many of these fossils are proudly on display. At the most recent meeting, he donated a large Basilosaurus sp. vertebrae – nearly 12 inches in length!

Big vertebrae mean big animals! Photo from Wikipedia.

Big vertebrae mean big animals! Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Basilosaurus was an early whale – one of the earliest! They lived in the Eocene, and grew to huge sizes. With over 70 vertebrae, Basilosaurs was over 50 feet long – making them a deadly predator of the late Eocene seas.

Basilosaurus still retained hind limbs, though they were highly reduced and not capable of supporting weight on land; it was completely restricted to aquatic environments. Though it wasn’t as highly adapted to ocean life as whales of today, likely spending most of its time near the surface and hunting fish, sharks, and potentially other small whales, it had started to develop the features of modern cetaceans in its ear bones – they were separated from the skull with dense bullae, indicating it could hear directionally underwater.

Museums such as CCNHM are made possible through the donations and help of amateur collectors – over 80% of the material in collections and on display at CCNHM are from amateur collectors, most of them in the Charleston area! In fact, we have so much donated material we are busy working on a display case devoted entirely to amateur collectors and their donations.

Thanks again, Mark, for the wonderful donation!


Further Reading:

Bejder, Lars; Hall, Brian K. (2002). “Limbs in whales and limblessness in other vertebrates: mechanisms of evolutionary and developmental transformation and loss”. Evolution and Development 4 (6): 445–458. [Link]

Fahlke, Julia M. (2012). “Bite marks revisited – evidence for middle-to-late Eocene Basilosaurus isis predation on Dorudon atrox (both Cetacea, Basilosauridae)” (PDF). Palaeontologia Electronica 15 (3). Retrieved August 2013. [Link]

Fahlke, Julia M.; Gingerich, Philip D.; Welsh, Robert C.; Wood, Aaron R. (2011). “Cranial asymmetry in Eocene archaeocete whales and the evolution of directional hearing in water”. PNAS 108 (35): 14545–14548. [Link]

Ekdale, E. G. and Racicot, R. A. (2015), Anatomical evidence for low frequency sensitivity in an archaeocete whale: comparison of the inner ear of Zygorhiza kochii with that of crown Mysticeti. Journal of Anatomy, 226: 22–39. doi: 10.1111/joa.12253 [Link]



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One comment on “Friday Fossil Feature – An Over-Whale-Ming Donation!
  1. Reagen Dandridge Desilets says:

    What an amazing find and what a fantastic addition to the Museum’s growing collections! Many thanks to Mark for donating it for the world to enjoy and learn from. 🙂

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