Teen Discovers Ancient Whale Skull During Casual Alabama Dig

teen discovers ancient whale skull during casual alabama dig.jpg Science

In a startling turn of events, a seemingly ordinary quest for shark teeth led to an extraordinary paleontological find in the heart of Alabama. A 16-year-old student, Lindsey Stallworth, and her teacher, Andrew Gentry, stumbled upon the 34-million-year-old skull of a prehistoric whale while digging on Stallworth’s family property in Monroe County. The discovery, which began with the unearthing of small bone fragments that led to larger bones and eventually to a whale skull measuring four to five feet long, has sparked immense excitement within the scientific community due to its rarity and potential to shed light on the area’s ancient past.

"Discovering a specimen this complete is extremely rare," says Gentry, a paleontologist and biology teacher at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science in Mobile. The fossil’s significance lies not only in its impressive size and preservation but also in its potential to reveal more about the animal it belonged to, as the team believes there may still be more of the skeleton left to uncover. This find offers a unique window into Alabama’s prehistoric era when most of the state was submerged under a shallow sea, teeming with gargantuan marine creatures from sea turtles the size of a Volkswagen Beetle to aquatic reptiles and giant, snaggletoothed fish.

Unearthed: A 34-Million-Year-Old Whale Skull in Alabama

In an unexpected archaeological discovery, a 16-year-old student and her teacher have unearthed a 34-million-year-old whale skull on a family property in Alabama’s Monroe County. The student, Lindsey Stallworth, and her teacher, Andrew Gentry, initially found small bone fragments that led them to the prehistoric whale skull, measuring between four to five feet long.

A Rare and Exciting Discovery

The pair initially didn’t recognize what they had found. It took several days of careful excavation to reveal part of a lower jaw and one of the creature’s large teeth. The discovery of such a complete fossil is quite rare, Gentry, a paleontologist and biology teacher at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, told NBC 15’s Andrea Ramey. Gentry expressed excitement at having unearthed most of the skull and the potential of revealing more of the skeleton, which could result in the complete remains of the prehistoric whale.

Alabama’s Prehistoric Aquatic History

Millions of years ago, most of Alabama was covered by a shallow sea, home to massive creatures such as a sea turtle the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and snaggletoothed fish as large as great white sharks. As counter-intuitive as it may seem today, Alabama is a prime region for finding fossils of sea creatures. The site where Stallworth and Gentry discovered the whale skull was a patch of land owned by Stallworth’s family for timber. The teenager had grown up collecting fossilized shells and shark teeth on the property.

The Potential of a New Species

Given the age of the whale skull, experts believe that it might represent a yet unknown species. The whale appears to be a smaller relative of Basilosaurus cetoides, a 60-foot-long serpent-like whale and the official state fossil of Alabama. Alternatively, the newfound remains could be related to the lesser-known whales of the genus Zygorhiza, also an official state fossil, but of Mississippi.

Stallworth and Gentry plan to continue excavating the rest of the whale skeleton next summer. Until then, they will work on cleaning, preserving, and studying the skull, now housed in a lab at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science. Stallworth, who spends about two hours in the lab each day, plans to continue this work through a research fellowship program at her school.


This discovery is a remarkable testament to the prehistoric life that once thrived in Alabama and a potential key to uncovering unknown species. It is a clear indication that there’s much more to learn about our planet’s history, often right beneath our feet. For Stallworth, it’s a testament to the potential of young scientists and a reminder that exciting discoveries can happen anywhere – even in our own backyards.

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