Whale Skull Extraction At Maryland Beach
Photo 1: Cody Goddard with wife Laura MacLean and son Brennan on the day of discovery.

SOLOMONS, Md. – While combing Matoaka Beach for fossils and shark’s teeth, Pennsylvania resident, Cody Goddard, made a fascinating discovery. A large hardened block of sediment laying on the beach had an unusual fossil protruding from one end (Photo 1).

Big thank you to @calvertbroadcast for the footage!

After further investigation, Goddard realized that he had stumbled upon a Miocene fossil whale skull. He then reached out to Dr. Stephen Godfrey, Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum (CMM), who confirmed, by way of a video text that the fossil encased in the sediment was indeed a whale skull and quickly made the trip to visit the fossil’s location in person.

Photo 2: Team lifting skull into truck. Photo courtesy of the Calvert Marine Museum.

Moving the 650 lb. block of sediment safely from the beach to the museum was no small task. Godfrey and team devised a plan to extract the sediment from the beach first by small pontoon boat, then by truck (Photo 2) to CMM’s Fossil Preparation Lab, which is located in the Paleontology Hall inside the museum. The extraction took place Monday, December 19th with a team of paleontology enthusiasts (Photo 3), including Goddard, who traveled down to share in the excitement. Godfrey said, “It felt like we had won the World Cup of Paleontology! We are so blessed to have so many avocational and professional paleontologists, locally.” 

“We don’t yet know what species of Miocene baleen whale this is,” says Godfrey, “that we will only know once it has been prepared. It might even prove to be our greatest preparation challenge, depending on how indurated the entombing sediments are.” The skull, affectionately christened “Cody,” is the most complete fossil whale skull ever recovered from that section of Calvert Cliffs.

Photo 3: (from left to right) Chris Storck, Marcus Jones, Cody Goddard, David Hoppe, Dr. Geoff Bowers, Stephen Groff, John Nance, Bill Prochownik, Dr. Victor Perez, Paul Murdoch, Walt Johns, and Dr. Stephen Godfrey. (Not pictured are Terrell Gross, John Bennett, and Rebecca Benton from Calvert County’s Communications & Media Relations, along with Kevin Schmidt, who captured the whale extraction digitally). Photo courtesy of Kevin Schmidt.

The unprepared “raw” fossil skull can be seen on a blue hydraulic cart in the museum’s Fossil Preparation Lab. Air scribe-like tools (like miniature jackhammers) will be used to delicately remove the very hardened sediments that encase most of the skull. That process, undertaken by our volunteers, will take many months. Once the bones that make up the top of the skull are uncovered, we should then be able to identify it, if it is a currently known species of Miocene baleen whale.

Explore how the prehistoric past, natural environments, and maritime heritage come to life and tell a unique story of the Chesapeake Bay. The Calvert Marine Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is $11.00 for adults; $9.00 for seniors, military with valid I.D, AAA and AARP members; $6.00 for children ages 5 – 12; children under 5 and museum members are admitted free. For more information about the museum, upcoming events, or membership, visit the website at www.calvertmarinemuseum.com or call 410-326-2042. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. 

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