Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bad day for a bad fish

Comfortable working conditions as usual!
As far as bony fish go, Xiphactinus audax was the king of its ocean. They reached insane lengths, up to 18 feet in articulated skeletons, like our "Mildred" specimen recovered in 2008. In 2010 we recovered a second 18 footer that was discovered by a Boji stone hunter on a private ranch which we collect on. This specimen was coming out head-first (or more precisely, the entire site was pretty much the erosional edge due to very low overburden).

The site, extending from the orange paint to near the blue tarp in the background
Detail of some of the "wonderful" bone quality on the edge
The fish was pretty stirred up and not as complete as we'd like for a stand-alone specimen. The entire caudal fin had exploded into individual 3 foot long bony rays, the skull was pretty much gone, all the ribs were jackstrawed into a massive tangle. There it earned the nickname "Goober", as the specimen appeared pretty goobered up. Luckily, the fish could still be useful to us as a parts donor for the Mildred specimen, which will be panel mounted this coming spring. We worked hard for several days removing the animal in 3 large jackets, as well as multiple smaller ones. The chalk was a bit fractured but still pretty dang hard. Air hammers turned out to be a lifesaver when undercutting the slabs of bone.

Can you see the tooth? Internal surface of the sclerotic

As with any paleo lab, we have a big backlog of specimens that need preparation. This specimen wass tored in our lab till yesterday, when we began preparation. More on that in future updates. Working on the specimen revealed several interesting things though, stomach contents consisting of a 4-5 foot long ichthyodectid fish, as well as teeth left by the scavenging shark Squalicorax falcatus. This morning revealed the tooth of one of these sharks lodged inside the sclerotic ring of Goober. I've had bad days before, but I've luckily never had sharks-biting-you-in-the-eye bad days. Ouch.

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