This weekend, Calvert Cliffs bore witness to a groundbreaking discovery as Emily Bzdyk, a volunteer with the Calvert Marine Museum, stumbled upon a dolphin skull estimated to be around 15 million years old. The fossil’s state of preservation has researchers at the museum excited about its potential to rewrite marine history.
While it’s not a rarity to come across marine mammal fossils, particularly in the Southern Maryland region, where about two dolphin skulls are typically found annually, this specific find is exceptional. Stephen Groff of the Calvert County Marine Museum noted the pristine condition of the artifact, saying, “Rarely are they in this good of condition.”
Given its excellent state, Groff speculates that this skull could belong to a dolphin species previously unknown to science. Groff and other experts collaborated with Bzdyk on Sunday to explore the find further, meticulously excavating the artifact from the beach. Their careful extraction process ensured the fossil’s integrity, after which it was transported to the museum via boat.
The following stages involve drying the fossil, as wet conditions render preservation materials ineffective. After drying, sediment removal will commence, a delicate procedure overseen by Bzdyk. Groff elaborated on the intricate nature of this process: “It’ll probably take her a few months, takes several dozen hours to completely clean one of these skulls because we have to be very careful that we don’t break anything or cause any damage.”
As Bzdyk works on the fossil, museum patrons will have the unique opportunity to witness her meticulous work firsthand in the upcoming weeks.
Groff clarified a common misbelief regarding fossil findings. While many assume the cliffs as the only source, several fossils, like the recent dolphin skull, are discovered on the beach. This originates from the Miocene era when the current beach area was submerged, serving as the ocean floor. Modern erosion has further facilitated the unveiling of these ancient treasures.
However, referring to these marine creatures as “dolphins” might create an image different from their reality. Groff explained, “You can think of them like a modern swordfish or sailfish. They have a long snout; they probably use it to club fish just like modern billfish do or to maybe probe around in the mud on the seafloor to stir up fish.”
While there’s optimism regarding the novelty of the species, Groff cautioned that a comprehensive examination is crucial. He also alluded to the potential of other undiscovered species, mentioning the belief that approximately 40-toothed marine mammals inhabited the region during the said era.
For Groff and many in his field, discoveries like this fuel their passion. Reflecting on his experiences, he remarked, “To go out in the field and, you know, recover and preserve a piece of our local natural history, it’s just wonderful. I can’t describe how exciting it is.”
Information for this article was taken from a WTOP/Maryland Matters article.