SOLOMONS, MD—The Smithsonian Institution has published an extensive online report that reveals one new turtle species and nine new dolphin species discovered in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs. The fossil-rich cliffs stretch approximately 30 miles along the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore. Compiled as part of an international collaboration, the free-to-access publication underscores the contributions of amateur paleontologists in advancing scientific understanding.

Titled “Geology and Vertebrate Paleontology of Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, USA – Volume 2, Turtles and Toothed Whales,” the report is available as a searchable PDF here. It outlines the findings of 19 different extinct turtles and over 30 kinds of dolphins found locally.

This Smithsonian Press volume features the Miocene-age turtles and dolphins that are preserved in these beautiful cliffs. Credit: S. Godfrey, courtesy of the Calvert Marine Museum

What makes this report significant is the identification of one new species of turtle and nine new species of dolphins. The turtle species was identified from a fragment of its fossilized shell. Remarkably, amateur paleontologists discovered all nine of the new fossil dolphin skulls. The scientific names assigned to these new dolphin species honor the individuals who found the skulls and others who have notably contributed to the field of paleontology.

The nine new dolphin species are based on single skulls, underscoring the limited scope of the current fossil record. “Of the millions of individuals of each of those species that existed on Earth millions of years ago, at present, we only know of the existence of each of those species based on single incomplete skulls that were serendipitously preserved in the fossil record,” the publication notes. This suggests that there is still much to be learned from future fossil discoveries.

The research effort involved the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences in Belgium and the Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland. Dr. Olivier Lambert of the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences, Dr. Robert E. Weems, Research Associate in the Department of Paleontology, and Dr. Stephen J. Godfrey, Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum, spearheaded the collaborative work.

Despite the rich paleontological history of the area, public access to the Calvert Cliffs is restricted. Only a few sites, including Matoaka Beach Cabins, Flag Ponds Nature Park, and Calvert Cliffs State Park, allow visitors to see the cliffs. Interested individuals should check the websites for visiting details like fees and hours. It is essential to note that digging in the cliffs is prohibited without prior permission. However, fossil collectors can keep any fossils found on the beach below the high tide line.

The newly published findings add to the existing knowledge of prehistoric sea life and underscore the significant role of amateur paleontologists and community participation in scientific discovery. As the research indicates, there are still many gaps in the fossil record, leaving the door open for future groundbreaking finds.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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