Whale fossil discovery in California


This video is called Rare Whale Fossil Pulled From Calif. Backyard.

From Associated Press:

Rare whale fossil pulled from Calif. yard

By MATT HAMILTON

Saturday, August 2, 2014 1:06 AM EDT

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — A search-and-rescue team pulled a rare half-ton whale fossil from a Southern California backyard Friday, a feat that the team agreed to take on as a makeshift training mission.

The 16- to 17-million-year-old fossil from a baleen whale is one of about 20 baleen fossils known to exist, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County paleontologist Howell Thomas said. Baleen is a filter made of soft tissue that is used to sift out prey, like krill, from seawater.

The fossil, lodged in a 1,000-pound boulder, was hoisted from a ravine by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department search-and-rescue volunteers. Using pulleys and a steel trolley, crews pulled the fossil up a steep backyard slope and into a truck bound for the museum.

Gary Johnson, 53, first discovered the fossil when he was a teen exploring the creek behind his family’s home.

At the time, he called another local museum to come inspect the find, but officials passed on adding it to their collection. In January, a 12-million-year-old sperm whale fossil was recovered at a nearby school, prompting Johnson to call the Natural History Museum.

“I thought, maybe my whale is somehow associated,” said Johnson, who works as a cartoonist and art director.

Thomas wanted to add the fossil to the county museum’s collection of baleen whale fossils, but was puzzled over how to get the half-ton boulder from Rancho Palos Verdes, located on a peninsula about 25 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles.

The sheriff’s department search-and-rescue unit declined to send a helicopter, but offered to use the fossil recovery as a training mission. The volunteer crew typically rescues stranded hikers and motorcyclists who careen off the freeway onto steep, rugged terrain, search-and-rescue reserve chief Mike Leum said.

“We’ll always be able to say, ‘it’s not heavier than a fossil,”‘ Leum said.

Lyme disease ticks discovery, 15 million years old


This video is called The amber fossils secret – Dominican Republic.

From LiveScience:

Ancient Lyme Disease Bacteria Found in 15-Million-Year-Old Tick Fossils

By Megan Gannon, News Editor | May 30, 2014 05:18pm ET

The oldest known evidence of Lyme disease may lie in ticks that were entombed in amber at least 15 million years ago, scientists announced.

The researchers investigated four fossilized ticks that had been trapped in chunks of amber found in the Dominican Republic. Inside the ticks’ bodies, the scientists saw a large population of cells that looked like the squiggly shaped spirochete cells of the Borrelia genus — a type of bacteria that causes Lyme disease today.

Bacteria, which arose on the planet 3.6 billion years ago, rarely survive in the fossil record. But amber, the hardened resin from oozing trees, can preserve soft tissues and microscopic cells that would otherwise degrade over time. In recent years, scientists have discovered the 100-million-year-old gut microbes of a termite and 40-million-year-old sperm from an insect-like springtail, both trapped in amber. [Photos: Ancient Life Trapped in Amber]

The newfound bacteria species was dubbed Palaeoborrelia dominicana. The findings suggest illnesses like Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases may have been plaguing animals long before humans ever walked Earth.

Today, ticks are more significant disease-carrying insects

They are arachnids, not insects

than mosquitos in the United States, Europe and Asia, said entomologist George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus at Oregon State University, lead author of the study detailed in the journal Historical Biology last month.

“They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors,” Poinar said in a statement. “It’s likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease.”

Lyme disease, for example, wasn’t formally recognized until the 1970s even though it affects thousands of people each year. In 2009, there were 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Humans acquire the disease when bitten by ticks that carry Borrelia bacteria. But because it has symptoms that overlap with many other disorders — including rash, aches, fatigue and fever — Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed.

The oldest documented case of Lyme disease in humans comes from the famous 5,300-year-old ice mummy dubbed Ötzi, discovered in the Eastern Alps about 20 years ago. In a 2012 study detailed in the journal Nature Communications, scientists said they found genetic material for the Borrelia bacteriain the iceman.

“Before he was frozen in the glacier, the iceman was probably already in misery from Lyme disease,” Poinar said. “He had a lot of health problems and was really a mess.”

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Some prehistoric sloths were ocean swimmers


This video is called Giant Ground Sloth – Museum of Life – BBC Two.

From National Geographic:

Some Ancient Sloths Ventured Into the Ocean, Study Says

Posted by Jane J. Lee in Weird & Wild on March 11, 2014

Modern-day sloths are tree dwellers, only occasionally venturing down to the ground. But about five to eight million years ago, five sloth species ventured into the sea.

Now, new research suggests that these ancient animals went much further into the water than we ever knew. Instead of just living near the ocean and making brief forays in, as scientists had previously thought, it appears that ancient aquatic sloths swam out and dove toward the bottom for food. The study confirms habits scientists had speculated about for years.

In studying the aquatic sloth fossils, a team of scientists found that cavities present in the bones of terrestrial animals were absent in the sloth specimens. They were instead filled with solid bone, which aided in diving.

“Think about a scuba diver who has a weight belt,” says Eli Amson, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and lead study author. “It allows them to sink.”

The bones of terrestrial mammals, by contrast—including our own—are filled with small cavities.

Dense bone is one of the key adaptations seen in mammals such as manatees and dugongs that returned to the sea, where life began. Dense bones would have been especially important in helping aquatic sloths dive because they had big bellies, like modern sloths do, which would have acted like flotation devices, says Greg McDonald, a senior curator of natural history for the U.S. National Park Service.

The earliest aquatic sloths probably came down to the beaches to munch on sea grasses exposed to the air during low tides, McDonald says. The animals may have waded into shallow water to graze on vegetation.

“Over time, [the sloths] become better adapted to an aquatic habitat where they go out and swim,” McDonald says, “and dive down in order to feed more often and not just with the tides.”

Beach Bums?

Other adaptations to a watery lifestyle can be seen in the ancient sloths’ limbs and tails. On average, these animals were 6.5 to 8 feet (2 to 2.5 meters) long, with about 3 feet (a meter) of that length being all tail, says Amson.

“The tail is actually reminiscent of a platypus tail or a beaver tail,” he says. But the sloths probably weren’t using their paddle-like tail for locomotion underwater. It was probably working to keep the animals stable as they dove, Amson explains.

Modifications to bones in their upper and lower legs also point to a shift to a more aquatic lifestyle, McDonald says.

Sloths didn’t get to a point where they were as aquatic as modern seals or sea lions, he adds. Aquatic sloths probably did come back to land to bask in the sun and warm up between meals.

And what a sight that would have been, to see six-foot (two-meter) sloths lazing about a beach. “Even by sloth standards, it’s a weird animal,” McDonald says. (Learn more about aquatic sloths.)

The new study was published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Did Chilean prehistoric whales die from algae?


This video says about itself:

Smithsonian 3D Digi Landscape – Chilean Fossil Whales – Time Lapse

26 November 2011

9 exposure HDR time lapse shot overnight. Newly discovered fossil whales in foreground with the Pan-american Highway leading towards the port of Caldera, Chile.

From Wildlife Extra:

Ancient marine graveyard mystery solved

February 2014: The 40 marine mammals that washed up on the Chilean coast millions of years ago died at sea probably from being poisoned by toxic algal blooms say scientists.

The marine graveyard was discovered in 2011 when builders working to extend the Pan-American Highway discovered a 250 metre wide quarry site filled with the skeletons of more than 40 marine mammals including 31 large baleen whales, seals, a walrus-like toothed whale, an aquatic sloth and an extinct species of sperm whale, suggesting that they died from the same cause.

The wide array of animals buried at the site over four levels indicated that the cause of death didn’t differentiate between the young and old or between species, and occurred repeatedly over thousands of years. This suggests that harmful algae blooms, which cause organ failure, could be the most common cause of mass strandings.

Other causes, like tsunamis, were ruled out by the team of Chilean and Smithsonian paleontologists because they would have produced a range of skeletons including much smaller species, rather than the primarily large mammals found at Cerro Ballena. A mass stranding while alive was ruled out as a cause of death due to the way all the marine mammals were were found at right angles to the direction that the current would have flowed.

Humans have been using echolocation in the form of sonar since the early part of the 20th century, but whales have made use of the ability to use sound to pinpoint locations for tens of millions of years. As evidenced in the fossils – which belong to a new species of ancient whale named Cotylocara macei – cetaceans have been using echolocation for at least 30 million years: here.

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Prehistoric apes discovery in Kenya


This video says about itself:

1 Oct 2012

On Rusinga Island in Kenya‘s Lake Victoria, paleontologist Will Harcourt-Smith is leading an effort to recreate the environments inhabited by primitive primates—apes of the genus Proconsul. Studying the adaptive changes of our ancient ancestors helps scientists trace the origins of adaptability in modern humans.

Science Bulletins is a production of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology (NCSLET), part of the Department of Education at the American Museum of Natural History.

From Science, Space & Robots:

Fossil Forest Discovery Sheds Light on Environment Inhabited by Early Apes

A fossil forest discovery by researchers from Baylor University and an international team of scientists has shed light on the environment inhabited by early apes on Rusinga Island, Kenya. Researchers found fossils of tree stumps, calcified roots and fossil leaves. Researchers say the fossil find indicates that Proconsul and its primate relative, Dendropithecus, lived in a dense, closed canopy tropical seasonal forest about 18 to 20 million years ago. The research was published here in Nature Communications.

Daniel Peppe, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study, says in a Baylor release, “Our research findings provide direct evidence and confirm where the early ape lived about 18 to 20 million years ago. We now know that Proconsul lived in a closed-canopy, tropical seasonal forest set in a warm and relatively wet local climate.”

Fossils of a single Proconsul were also found among the geological fossil forest deposits.

Lauren Michel, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in the geology department at Baylor, says, “The varying diameters of the tree stumps coupled with their density within the fossil soil, implies that the forest would have been comprised of trees with interlocking or overlapping branches, thus creating a canopy.”

Posted on February 27, 2014

Fossil whale discovery in California


This video says about itself:

The jaws of the Leviathan: by Nature Video

28 June 2010

The fossilized skull and jaw of a giant, 12–13 million-year-old sperm whale have been discovered off the coast of Peru. The creature, whose discovery is reported in this week’s Nature, belongs to a previously unknown genus of sperm whale and has been named in honour of Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick.

The fossil was found in ocean layers where the giant shark has also been recorded and the authors suggest that these two giant, raptorial predators could have lived in the same area, feeding on large, marine vertebrates, such as baleen whales.

From the Daily Breeze in California, USA:

‘Priceless’ fossil find on Palos Verdes Peninsula could be 12-million-year-old sperm whale

By Donna Littlejohn, The Daily Breeze

Posted: 01/30/14, 7:03 PM PST

For decades it sat in a garden on the Chadwick School campus — a 700-pound Altamira shale boulder with a fossil partially exposed.

What that fossil turned out to be surprised most everyone.

Paleontologists from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum suspect the find could be nothing short of a new, prehistoric sperm whale species from the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which once was underwater.

The fossil is thought to be about 12 million years old, said Howell Thomas, senior paleontologist for the museum.

“I expect it to be something new,” said Thomas, who visited the private school campus about a year ago to inspect the find.

“It’s pretty remarkable and scientifically significant,” said Chadwick science teacher Martin Byhower, who contacted the museum last year with a request for help in identifying that fossil and several other embedded marine fossils used in landscaping on the campus. The other shale rocks contained fossil remnants of ribs and vertebrae from whales but did not qualify as any kind of significant discovery, Thomas said.

“I looked at them and said ‘That’s this, this is that — and this (the skull) needs to come to the museum,’” Thomas said.

“I looked at it and said, ‘Ah! That’s a sperm whale skull and it’s really small,’ which makes it even more important. Juveniles are rare.”

Animals in the wild grow up quickly, he said, making it unlikely that the small size points to a juvenile. More likely, he said, the fossil appears to be from a small adult species of sperm whale that hasn’t previously been identified by scientists.

The museum will collect the piece on Wednesday and take it back to its laboratories for what will be a year’s work of further excavation and study, Thomas said.

Using state-of-the-art tools, the ancient and delicate fossil material will be painstakingly separated from the shale rock that covers perhaps 75 percent of the skull.

As part of the research, the museum will attempt to locate another small sperm whale fossil also reportedly found on the Palos Verdes Peninsula but not on Chadwick property, to compare the two, Thomas said.

The embedded skull appears to have been on the private school campus for nearly 80 years, most likely uncovered during earlier construction projects.

Byhower said it’s been moved a few times during his 30 years of teaching at the school.

Fellow science teacher and Chadwick alumni Nick Herzik said the find is “priceless.”

“I probably sat on this a million times” as a student,” he said.

For Byhower, learning more about the fossils was a way to encourage his students’ natural curiosity about the world around them.

“I just want kids to observe and wonder about the world. I want them to persist until they get the answers” to the mysteries that surround them, Byhower said.

The museum and school have been in negotiations for the past year, Thomas said, to finalize an agreement to have the rock and fossil transported and donated. In exchange, the school will receive a cast model of the fossil when it is finished.

The museum will document its work and likely write a paper for publication when the examinations are complete.

There is “no guarantee” that the find will result in identifying a new species, Thomas said.

“But I expect it will be,” he said.

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Dolphin fossil discovery in New Zealand


This video is called Friday Fossil Mystery – Ep.2 – Dolphin Petrosal.

From the University of Otago in New Zealand:

New dolphin fossil found in NZ

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A newly recognised fossil dolphin from New Zealand, dubbed Papahu taitapu, is the first of its kind ever found and may be a close relation to the ancestors of modern dolphins and toothed whales, according to University of Otago researchers.

Papahu lived 19–22 million years ago, and is one of the few dolphins to be reported globally dating to the start of the Miocene epoch. Judging from the size of its skull, Papahu was about two metres long, roughly the size of a common dolphin.

Dr Gabriel Aguirre and Professor Ewan Fordyce, from the University’s Department of Geology describe and interpret Papahu in the latest issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. This work was part of Dr Aguirre’s PhD research.

Dr Aguirre says that like most living dolphins, Papahu had many simple conical teeth, but its head was probably a bit wider, and not as high-domed. It lived at a time of global warmth, in shallow seas around Zealandia – or proto-New Zealand – along with ancient penguins and baleen whales.

The skull, one jaw, and a few other parts of Papahu taitapu were found in marine sedimentary rocks in the Cape Farewell region of northern South Island. The researchers used the Māori name ‘taitapu’ to honour this region, and ‘Papahu’ is a Māori name for dolphin. Only a single specimen has been found so far and the fossil is housed in the University’s Geology Museum.

“Our study of structures of the skull and earbone suggest that Papahu could make and use high frequency sound to navigate and detect prey in murky water. They probably also used sound to communicate with each other,” says Dr Aguirre.

Features of the Papahu skull can be used to analyse relationships with other dolphins and toothed whales. That work shows that the skull is distinct from all previously-reported fossils, which is why the dolphin can be formally named as a new form, he says.

“When we compared Papahu with both modern and fossil dolphins we found that it belongs in a diverse and structurally variable group of ancient dolphins that evolved and spread world-wide 19–35 million years ago. All of those ancient dolphins including Papahu and others, such as shark-toothed dolphins, are now extinct,” says Professor Fordyce.

“They have been replaced by the ‘modern’ dolphins and toothed whales, which diversified within the last 19 million years,” he says.

It is not clear, however, exactly why Papahu and other ancient dolphins went extinct, he added.

See also here.

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