A "whale" of a discovery was found in the Martin Marietta Carmel Church Quarry in 1990. The Quarry is located in Caroline County about 2 miles west of I-95. The 14 million year old fossils were found by Dr. Alton Dooley and other scientists from the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH). The fossils were found 20 feet below the surface. The 1st bones found included 3 neck vertebrae and were excavated in 1991 and 1992. 50% of the skeleton was recovered, making it one of the most complete whales in the eastern United States. The whale was determined to be a new species in 2000 due to an ear bone difference from other whale of the time period. The species was named Eobalaenoptera harrisoni in 2004.
The Caroline County Visitor Center whale display is a resin cast of the skeleton. The Visitor Center mounting of Eobalaenoptera is considered one of the most innovative paleontological whale displays in the world. The original skeleton is housed in the VMNH, where another cast of the whale is located. The whale was cast by the Research Casting International, Canada. The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Sunday.
What's in a name?
- Eos = Dawn (ancient)
- Balaena = Whale
- Pteron = Wing (a reference to the large flippers)
- The term harrisoni is in honor of Mr. Carter Harrison, a volunteer for the VMNH.
- 14 million years old
- 30 feet long
- Baleen plates are soft tissue fringed at the end; the tissue is comparable to a fingernail
- The bones weigh several hundred pounds
- Died at sea as a mature adult
- Had fibrous baleen plates in its mouth to filter food, like its distant relatives the blue and humpback whales
- Heard through vibrations in its jaw since the ear bone is connected to the lower jaw
- It is one of the largest baleen whale exhibits in the United States
- This find has made Caroline County one of the most important prehistoric sites east of the Mississippi River
- The Visitor Center exhibit of Eobalaenoptera is considered one of the most innovative palaeontological whale displays in the world
- The whale is 3 - 5 million years older than the next earliest known member of this branch of whales
Check out the photo gallery for images of the skeleton being constructed.