Maryland Beachcomber Stumbles Upon Possible New Dolphin-like Species

maryland beachcomber stumbles upon possible new dolphin like species.jpg Science

In the dark of a late Saturday night, Emily Bzdyk and her companion were scouring a quiet Maryland beach when her headlamp illuminated what appeared to be a bone nestled near the undulating tide line. As fossil enthusiasts, they were no strangers to unearthing ancient shark and skate teeth and bone fragments from extinct marine life along the Calvert Cliffs of Chesapeake Bay. Yet, on this night, Bzdyk had discovered something truly extraordinary, an artifact that could potentially be unprecedented in the annals of paleontology.

Bzdyk’s keen eye spotted the fragment as the sand retreated from the clay substrate of the beach. On closer inspection, she realized that the isolated bone was part of a larger structure – a sizable skull, spanning roughly 2½ feet in length and weighing approximately 50 pounds. A volunteer at the Calvert Marine Museum, Bzdyk was thrilled by the discovery, having only previously found fragmented fossils. The find was confirmed by Stephen Groff, an assistant paleontology collection manager at the museum, to be the remarkably intact skull of a 15 million-year-old, extinct dolphin-like creature, a relic from a time when most of Maryland was submerged under a shallow sea.

A Remarkable Fossil Discovery: An Ancient Dolphin-like Creature’s Skull

On a late Saturday night earlier this month, two fossil hunters, Emily Bzdyk and her friend, came across an extraordinary find on a deserted Maryland beach. Amidst the usual shards of prehistoric shark teeth and bones of other long-extinct sea animals that they often unearth from the Calvert Cliffs along the Chesapeake Bay, this discovery was unique, possibly even unprecedented.

A Rare Find

Bzdyk’s headlamp revealed what appeared to be a bone near the tide line. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a large skull, approximately 2½ feet long and weighing around 50 pounds. For Bzdyk, a volunteer at the Calvert Marine Museum, it was an exhilarating moment.

"I was very excited when I figured what it might be," said Bzdyk. "I had never found anything so put together. I always find fragments of bones."

An Ancient Skull Unearthed

Stephen Groff, an assistant paleontology collection manager at the museum, confirmed that the fossil was a remarkably preserved skull of a 15 million-year-old, now-extinct dolphin-like creature. This creature once swam in a shallow sea that sprawled across most of Maryland.

According to Groff, this discovery was akin to hitting a fossil jackpot. Skulls, especially ones in such complete condition, are rarely found. Furthermore, there is a small possibility that this specimen belongs to an undiscovered species. Groff states that fewer than 100 skulls of this type have been discovered, with finds of this caliber occurring only once every few years at Calvert Cliffs.

The Scientific Significance

"Skulls are scientifically significant because they provide a wealth of information that allows scientists to determine the exact species the skull is from, which is not true of some other bones," Groff explained. He believes that the skull was probably buried swiftly after the animal’s death, allowing it to remain intact for millions of years.

An Exhibit and Further Research

The skull will be displayed at the Calvert Marine Museum. Meanwhile, Bzdyk will meticulously scrape away the sediment to reveal the complete skull over the coming months. Visitors can observe her process. Once the excavation is complete, experts will determine whether the animal is a new species or one already known.

The Species Mystery

Groff mentioned that the animal belongs to a group called the odontocetes, which include dolphins, porpoises, and toothed whales. There were four known species of odontocetes that inhabited the ancient seas near Calvert County. While it’s likely that the fossil belongs to one of these four species, it may belong to another.

My Takeaways

This discovery underscores the importance of fossil hunting in unlocking the secrets of our planet’s ancient past. It’s an exciting reminder that there’s still so much to learn about the creatures that once roamed our world. It also highlights the role of amateur enthusiasts and volunteers like Bzdyk in contributing to scientific knowledge. The anticipation of whether this specimen turns out to be a new species or not is certainly a compelling reason to keep an eye on this story!

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