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Miocene Whale Recovered From & for Display at VA State Park

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SailingAlongToo

Miocene Whale Recovered From & for Display at Westmoreland State Park in VA

 

This past Saturday, Mrs.SA2, @Daleksec (Trevor), his dad Orlin, @MarcoSr, his 2 sons Marco Jr. and Mel, a couple of other folks and I had the pleasure and privilege to finally finish recovering a whale skull from the cliffs at Westmoreland State Park here in VA. Marco Sr's sons had been working to excavate and recover this skull since June, but due to the unstable cliffs, high water levels, wind / waves, and trespassers / poachers damaging the plaster jackets, they had not been able to finish the task until this past weekend. Given the size and weight of the jacketed skull, a boat was the easiest way to get it off the beach and transported to the boat ramp where the Park's employees used a large tractor to lift it off the boat and set it on a trailer. Once prepped, the skull will be put on display at the Park's Visitors Center along with a photo album and video display chronicling the endeavor in hopes of providing knowledge and context about the geology and fossils of the area. Since Mrs.SA2 is still recovering from her fall back in late September, she was tasked with the photography / videography of the recovery. Combined with photos taken by Marco Jr. and Mel from the beginning of the excavation and several others of the group taking photos / videos on Saturday, the Park visitors will be able to see the step by step excavation and preparation process from start to finish. It is hoped that the skull and other skeletal pieces along with the photo album and video will be ready for display to the public by this spring. Everyone working to recover the whale were volunteers except for the Park employees.

 

For the record, back at the end of June these plaster jackets on the skull and post-cranial bones are the same ones Mrs.SA2 and Trevor caught trespassers / poachers beating on with a large stick in hopes of stealing fossils. By the time they were discovered (caught red handed in the act), the trespassers / poachers had already busted the jackets open and removed multiple vertebrae, flipper bones and ribs from their matrix in the now busted open jackets. Thankfully, Mrs.SA2 & Trevor were able to stop the crime, take possession of the removed bones and  then turn them over to the Park for safe keeping. Unfortunately, the Park Rangers were unable to catch the criminals despite the great descriptions provided.

 

Here are a few of the photos taken during the recovery on Saturday. The first task of the day was clearing off the debris and sediment that had recently fallen on the working ledge. Mel is on the left in the red hat. I'm on the right and Marco Sr. is in the middle. (Don't worry folks, there are better photos of Marco Sr. a little later.) You can see the delamination and cracking of the cliff on each side of the working ledge.

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Here is Trevor taking a break from shoveling.

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Here is Mrs.SA2 posing in front of the skull.

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Once the debris and sediment was cleared away, the damaged / wet plaster jackets had to be removed and then the sections re-jacketed for stability during recovery. Aluminum foil was used to provide initial cover for the bones. Mel is putting on the foil while rest of us discuss how much this thing is going to weigh. Marco Jr. is in the bright blue sweatshirt, Marco Sr. is in the blue stocking cap, Orlin is in the gray hoodie closest to the cliff and I've got on the baseball cap turned backwards.

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Burlap is applied after the foil so the plaster will have a substrate for binding. Here, Marco Jr. is wrapping the skull in burlap while Mel mixes up the fist bucket of plaster.

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Next comes the plaster jacket. The Potomac River provided free water which was mixed with bags of plaster in a bucket, then hand applied to cover the burlap. Water temperature was 49F on Saturday. Mel is on the left and Marco Jr. is on the right. Didn't take long for their hands to turn blue.

An interesting side note for those who don't know, Marco Sr., Marco Jr. and Mel have a website called phatfossils.com. They also have a Facebook page with the same name AND they have M&M Ranch in Nebraska where you can find Oligocene terrestrial animal fossils. You can Google that one if you want. Mrs.SA2, Trevor and I always enjoy fossil hunting and fossil discussions with them because we learn so much! Recovering the skull, we just provided the boat and some manual labor, they did the hard part.

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A couple of photos showing better views of the cliff. Marco Sr. is on the left in the blue stocking cap. Our buddy Zsolt is in the black coat on the ledge. Zsolt helped with taking photos and videos and is saving himself for the important task of lifting the jacketed skull off the beach. More on that later.

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Here is the skull with its new plaster jacket and wooden support. We found a 2" X 8" board on the beach and cut it to length in order to provide a rigid support once the jacket is flipped over.

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It took about 90 mins for the plaster to harden / set. Once the jacket was solid, Marco Jr. and Mel dug out underneath of jacket to separate it from the surrounding matrix. Orlin (on right with gray hoodie and shovel) helped shave off the edge of the ledge so we could roll it over and move it off the ledge and down to the beach. Note the sediment ramp built below the jacket.

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Once the jacket was free from the surrounding matrix, it was rolled over onto the 2X8 board and slid down the sediment ramp to the beach. It was remarkably easy since Marco Jr and Mel had built such a good jacket and gravity worked with us. (Photo below shows a much better shot of Marco Sr., blue stocking cap, 2nd from left)

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Next, extra matrix was removed from what was the bottom in order to get rid of weight and lighten the load.

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Below, Orlin (on left) is calculating the weight. Just for reference, a cubic yard of wet sediment from this location weights roughly 2,200 -2,500 lbs. The 8 of us were going to be picking up at least 1/2 cubic yard of dirt, plus the plaster jacket, 2X8 board and skull.

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Trevor is on the right helping Mel trim off extra matrix. Mel's tongue only came out a few times.

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After the load was lightened as much as possible, we used those always handy, ratchet straps to keep the jacket closed and secure during transport. The straps also kept the jacket attached to the wooden boards we used for lifting. Wouldn't want it to slide off and us drop it. You can see one of the boards sticking out the left side near Orlin's knee. We used 3 boards perpendicular to the jacket, plus a person at each end, in order to lift it. (YES, it was heavy.) All the boards were found along the beach.

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More to come in next post.

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FossilDAWG

Thanks for showing us this grand adventure. :dinothumb:

 

Don

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jpc

Great report.  I have collected w the marco family and they are indeed good folks.  (And have a great collection of old dead things).  But I have never seen burlap put on without plaster, then plaster applied. 

Also fun to see wet condition collecting and to watch the tide coming up during the process.   

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Fossildude19

Is this related to the video posted last week?

 

 

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SailingAlongToo
15 minutes ago, Fossildude19 said:

Is this related to the video posted last week?

 

 

No. That was at Calvert Cliffs, MD. This was on Potomac River in VA.

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jpc

Looks like two whale skulls were collected in the mid Atlantic states last week.  How cool is that? 

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Ludwigia

Fantastic report, Trevor! I enjoyed every minute of it.

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MarcoSr

Jack

 

Great post and report!  I look forward to the final edited video.

 

 

Jack and Theresa         Orlin,Trevor, Chip and Zsolt     WSP rangers and staff

 

Thank you for all of the help.  You can't get out a whale skull of that size without a lot of help.  It was a great feeling for all of us, especially Mel and Marco Jr., to see the skull secured to the WSP trailer.

 

Marco Sr.

 

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Coco

Hi,

 

Great story !

 

Coco

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SailingAlongToo
2 hours ago, Ludwigia said:

Fantastic report, Trevor! I enjoyed every minute of it.

Thanks. FYI - Trevor is Dalesek on TFF, our buddy's 18 y/o son. I'm Jack. Though, Trevor is normally with us on most of our fossil hunting adventures. In fact, he's with Mrs.SA2 & me so much most people think he's our kid. ;-)

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Ludwigia
33 minutes ago, SailingAlongToo said:

Thanks. FYI - Trevor is Dalesek on TFF, our buddy's 18 y/o son. I'm Jack. Though, Trevor is normally with us on most of our fossil hunting adventures. In fact, he's with Mrs.SA2 & me so much most people think he's our kid. ;-)

oops! :blush: Sorry! I guess I got a bit mixed up with all those names and numbers :P

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SailingAlongToo
Just now, Ludwigia said:

oops! :blush: Sorry! I guess I got a bit mixed up with all those names and numbers :P

It's all Good!

Trevor is quite a wonderful young man with a bright future ahead of him. He wants to study geology / paleontology when he graduates high school in June. Mrs.SA2 & I are doing everything possible to make sure he has as many fossil hunting experiences as possible to help him with that goal.

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Ludwigia
1 minute ago, SailingAlongToo said:

It's all Good!

Trevor is quite a wonderful young man with a bright future ahead of him. He wants to study geology / paleontology when he graduates high school in June. Mrs.SA2 & I are doing everything possible to make sure he has as many fossil hunting experiences as possible to help him with that goal.

I'm always pleased to hear when young people are seriously interested in the subject. Good that he's got your support.

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fossilized6s

Great stuff! Kudos to everyone involved! Can't wait to see her prepped. Thanks for sharing this adventure. 

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Macrophyseter

Great stuff! Good luck on the rest of the job! :hammer01:

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jcbshark

great story and work on all of your parts, congrats and thanks for sharing:fistbump:

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RCW3D

Awesome report Jack! As much fun as I had downriver with my family, I would have loved to have present for this. It annoys me to no end that the poachers were unable to be caught in time though, people are brazen along this stretch and it is going to take a lot of trespassing convictions to get them to stop.

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MarcoSr
17 minutes ago, RCW3D said:

Awesome report Jack! As much fun as I had downriver with my family, I would have loved to have present for this. It annoys me to no end that the poachers were unable to be caught in time though, people are brazen along this stretch and it is going to take a lot of trespassing convictions to get them to stop.

 

Trespassing is a very sore subject for me for many reasons but especially when I see constantly museum quality specimens hacked to bits by poachers/trespassers only interested in ear bones or teeth.  I've seen at least a half dozen, museum worthy, marine mammal specimens destroyed at Stratford Hall by trespassers just over the last two years alone.

 

This whale excavation was made much more difficult by trespassers.  A trespasser actually started the excavation of this specimen by poaching exposed vertebrae.  They dug a very long shallow, flat hole (instead of a stronger arch shaped hole) which caused the cliff to crack around the hole which made it very dangerous to work on the specimens initially. My sons had to put a temporary jacket on what was exposed to protect it and wait for the cliff to come down. Six months later there was a pretty big slide of the material which was above the specimen.  After that my sons could excavate the specimen further.  In addition, on two separate occasions poachers broke open the jackets that my sons had placed upon the fossils to steal bones. They broke off the end and took a piece of a perfect lower whale jaw that was jacketed.  As Jack described above, Theresa caught poachers breaking up a jacket of vertebrae and ribs and throwing the items on the beach so they could take them.

 

Westmoreland State Park issued twice as many tickets this year as last for people collecting under their cliffs.  My sons and I are on a Virginia Park and Recs permit that permits us to collect in the WSP cliff area.  That permit is why we could remove this whale skull for the park legally.  These permits rarely get issued unless the permit holders are associated with a museum or agency like the USGS.

 

Sratford Hall has had a number of trespassers arrested over the last two years.  I know of at least one conviction and several other cases coming to trial soon.

 

There is much less tolerance in the area now for anyone trespassing.  Instead of just warnings, which weren't deterring anyone, more and more trespassers have been given tickets or arrested.  It won't work as an excuse any more, if when caught, you claim "you didn't know you were trespassing", or "it was your first time" or "you didn't see the signs".  People claiming "they know their rights and that they can be walking in the water because it belongs to Maryland" and argue about leaving don't know Virginia law (Virginia land owners own to the mean low tide not like in Maryland where the landowners only own to the mean high tide.  Huge difference.) which applies along the Potomac River.  Also the bays and stream mouths on the Virginia side of the Potomac can completely be in Virginia and under Virginia maritime police jurisdiction.   We are no longer arguing with these people.  They are just being arrested.

 

So to the trespassers, eventually you will be caught and arrested.  In addition you are causing land owners to press for laws preventing all fossil collecting along the Potomac River unless you have a permit.  When that eventually happens and it will, you can blame all these folks who think that the laws don't apply to them.

 

Marco Sr.

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hokiehunter

Glad to hear the powers that be are getting serious on trespass around there.  I am aware of several folks that at least up until recently had the attitude of "all they are going to do is warn me" when caught and would boast about it so hopefully this nails them and pushes them out of the hobby.  btw... I'll also throw out there that I know of at least 2 well known collectors both active in the internet realm that are guilty of this but will tell you another thing so hopefully they get the point as well if they are reading.  

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SailingAlongToo
1 hour ago, hokiehunter said:

Glad to hear the powers that be are getting serious on trespass around there.  I am aware of several folks that at least up until recently had the attitude of "all they are going to do is warn me" when caught and would boast about it so hopefully this nails them and pushes them out of the hobby.  btw... I'll also throw out there that I know of at least 2 well known collectors both active in the internet realm that are guilty of this but will tell you another thing so hopefully they get the point as well if they are reading.  

 

Perhaps you should let @MarcoSr know who those 2 "well known" collectors are.................

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sgreen063

Great job guys! Well said Marco Sr.

Can't way to see it on display.

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non-remanié

Amazing job!!  Its hard to believe that collectors would purposefully destroy plastered specimens in the field for a couple fragmented bones.  But I guess that's just the logical progression of a widespread selfish treasure hunter collecting mentality.   I can only imagine how many similar marine mammal skeletons you guys must have saved in the Stratford Harbor / Nomini cliffs area over the years!

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MarcoSr
On 11/30/2017 at 9:27 PM, non-remanié said:

Amazing job!!  Its hard to believe that collectors would purposefully destroy plastered specimens in the field for a couple fragmented bones.  But I guess that's just the logical progression of a widespread selfish treasure hunter collecting mentality.   I can only imagine how many similar marine mammal skeletons you guys must have saved in the Stratford Harbor / Nomini cliffs area over the years!

 

Steve

 

Thank you.  Can you believe a habitual  trespasser to this area attacked me and Marco Jr. on Facebook because we were both upset about the jackets getting broken open multiple times by poachers/trespassers?  Valuable specimens were damaged and stolen.  My sons had to redo these jackets with hours of their time and foot the costs for the materials.  He then threatened Marco Jr.  I guess he latter realized that saying what he did on Facebook in writing wasn’t very smart and deleted all of his posts.  People like this guy are why the landowners are no longer cutting trespassers any slack in the area.

 

Marco Sr.

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